The Obama Foundation has pushed back the groundbreaking date for the Obama Presidential Center after the federal review process was delayed for a second time this summer, officials confirmed Friday.
Instead of starting construction later this year, the foundation is now saying they plan to break ground for the half-billion-dollar project sometime in 2019. Officials avoided setting a specific date during the year. They also would not say if this will change their timeline for building the center, which was once slated to open in 2021.
“We have a sense of urgency about this project (and) when we started, we wanted the public to know we would break ground as soon as possible,” said Michael Strautmanis, the vice president for civic engagement for the foundation. “But we also knew there were some things that were not in our control. We insist on going through the process with integrity and without rushing.”
READ: Federal lawsuit accuses Obama center organizers of pulling an ‘institutional bait and switch’ »
Before the presidential center can be built, the federal government will review its impact on Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and evaluate the project’s environmental effects. Any impact that the review highlights will have to be resolved before construction can be allowed.
There have already been two public federal review meetings. A third was scheduled in June, but then it was delayed until July. Now it has been delayed until late summer, according to the city of Chicago’s website.
The federal review process has to be conducted because of Jackson Park’s historic status and because it involved closing and expanding major streets.
The news of the delay comes just a day after activists gathered on the South Side at a meeting to discuss placing a community benefits agreement proposition on the February ballot.
“We have a new window of opportunity before the next election to protect the most vulnerable people in our community,” said Parrish Brown, an activist with the Black Youth Project 100 Chicago Chapter, in a written statement. “We’re gathering to make sure Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel and the local aldermen do the right thing, or we’ll have to elect people who will.”
The coalition wants an ordinance that would require that 30 percent of all newly constructed housing near the presidential center be set aside as affordable housing. They want a property tax freeze for the longtime homeowners closest to the site and an independent monitor to make sure local residents are hired to work on the project. In addition, they are now calling for a community trust fund and support for the neighborhood schools.
READ: Amid heated debate, city approves plan for Obama Presidential Center »
The Obama Presidential Center is expected to be a sprawling campus with three buildings that will contain a museum, meeting rooms, an athletic center and a public library branch. The project is expected to bring thousands of visitors to the South Side, create about 2,500 permanent jobs and infuse the local community with tourist dollars.
But from the time the project was announced, it has been embattled as some residents have disagreed with where it will be constructed and the pace of the project. Others have pushed for an iron-clad contract guaranteeing certain amenities to vulnerable residents who currently live nearby.
In May, the Chicago City Council approved measures that essentially granted permission for the center to be built.
The foundation has already hired a collective of construction firms to do the work, and those firms have started their community outreach. But they still have to train and develop a workforce, and negotiate a long term lease with the city.
Construction of the center will be paid for with private donations, but the city is expected to make about $175 million in improvements to roads and underpasses around the site.