The Illinois House and Senate passed legislation Thursday to help the city of Chicago battle legal filings against efforts to build the Obama presidential library and Lucas Museum on public park land. Opponents of using public land for the two potential landmarks argue that the city of Chicago does not have the ability to give the space away to the two entities.
The Friends of the Parks filed a lawsuit against the city of Chicago and Chicago Park District back in November, arguing that the allocation of lakefront land to the Lucas museum is a violation of public trust. The suit claims that the city and park district do not have the authority to green light building on the land without approval from the state legislature because the space is still technically a protected waterway. The land between Soldier Field and McCormick Place was originally part of Lake Michigan, but was turned into land space in the 1920s.
The bill, if signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, would allow the city of Chicago the ability to build museums and "presidential libraries" on park land or "formerly submerged lands" so long as it allows the public to reach the space "in a manner consistent with its access to other public parks."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement applauding the move by the legislature Thursday, saying "this action will provide further reassurance for the Barack Obama Foundation to choose the president's home town as the site of the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum."
"I commend the Illinois General Assembly for making it clear that they agree with Chicago's position that presidential libraries and other museums enhance park land for the benefit of the public," said Mayor Emanuel. "The Obama Presidential Library and Lucas Museum of Narrative Art would not only benefit residents and visitors for generations to come, these institutions would provide incredible economic, cultural and educational opportunities to the city and state."
According to the Associated Press, members with Friends of the Parks say the decision impedes on their right to defend public land. Last week, the group's President and CEO Cassandra Francis abruptly resigned from her post, saying the decision was motivated by other opportunities she had been presented with recently.
"I'm moving on from Friends of the Parks, but I plan to stay closely connected to the cause of protecting Chicago's irreplaceable public parks and open spaces which make it a great city. I will continue to focus on open space, environmental and real estate issues both in Chicago and abroad," Francis said via email, the Chicago Tribune reported.