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Lawsuit accuses Obama Foundation of 'institutional bait and switch' over presidential library plans

A lawsuit accuses Obama Foundation Center and the city of Chicago of "institutional bait and switch" over plans for former President Barack Obama's presidential library. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Public activists in Chicago filed a lawsuit in federal court Monday accusing organizers at the Obama Foundation Center of an "institutional bait and switch" for using land in Chicago apportioned for former President Barack Obama's presidential library for something they say is much different: a privately run Obama museum.

What are the details?

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the suit came just before the Chicago Plan Commission intended to meet Thursday to consider zoning applications submitted by the Obama Foundation Center, the Chicago DOT, and Chicago Park District.

The plaintiffs stated their goal is to "bar the Park District and the City from approving the building of the Presidential Center and from conveying any interest in or control of the Jackson Park site to the [Obama] Foundation."

The Chicago City Council approved an ordinance in 2015 to transfer 19.3 acres of land in Jackson Park to the City of Chicago, which would then lease it to the Obama Foundation for a nominal price. The land was planned to be used for Obama's presidential library.

The plaintiffs said building on the historic land would violate federal policy, which forbids public park land from being handed over to private entities for development.

When first proposed in 2015, Obama's future library was planned to be just that: a library managed by the National Archives. However, the project has transformed in the three years since it was unveiled to now include features unrelated to Obama's time in the White House.

The project, which is estimated to take $500 million to complete, will also now be privately managed, the suit alleged.

How did the city react?

A spokesperson for Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushed back against the lawsuit.

"The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side, bring our communities together and honor the legacy of Chicago’s favorite son and daughter. While some choose to stand in the way of progress for the South Side, we are focused on making progress in every community in Chicago," Grant Klinzman told the Sun-Times.

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