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October 31, 2018

City Council Unanimously Approves 99-Year Lease for Obama Center


The current plan calls for the center to be situated on a large plot of land in Jackson Park.

Courtesy of Obama Foundation

In a 48-0 vote, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance that allows the Obama Foundation to occupy the land of the incoming Obama Presidential Center (OPC) for 99 years at a price of $10.

The passage of the ordinance came as expected after the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate unanimously approved the ordinance earlier this month.

Once the OPC is constructed on public land in Jackson Park, the city will own the OPC’s buildings, but the Foundation will have the right to use and maintain the buildings during the 99-year term. Unlike major museums, the OPC under this ordinance will not be able to occupy park land in perpetuity, and will not receive operating or capital support from the city.

City Council also approved a second ordinance dictating road adjustments the city will make to make room for the 19.3-acre site of the OPC.

In a video posted on the Obama Foundation’s Twitter account after the vote, former president Barack Obama said, “I am so excited and grateful that today the Obama Foundation received approval from Chicago City Council on the agreement that will help bring the Obama Presidential Center to life as a resource and amenity for the people of Chicago.”

The OPC still awaits a federal review before breaking ground because Jackson Park is included on the National Register of Historic Places. The OPC also still faces a federal lawsuit filed by activist group Protect our Parks claiming the center should be constructed on a private park. With the 99-year agreement now approved, city lawyers said they plan to file a motion to dismiss this lawsuit.

Unlike previous meetings that concerned the OPC, no one testified at the City Council meeting, and aldermen were in high spirits for Halloween. Many activist groups had attempted to delay the vote beforehand.

The Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition held a press conference Wednesday morning, ahead of the City Council meeting, to demand City Council pass an ordinance ensuring benefits to current local residents, like rent control and workforce development.

Patricia Hightower, a Woodlawn resident and an activist with the CBA Coalition, said that the vote was “a step in the right direction.”

“But If they’re really serious [about listening to the community],” she said, “then we feel that [City Council] should agree to pass the CBA ordinance.”

The CBA Coalition is placing a referendum on the February city ballot to have Chicagoans vote on a CBA ordinance. The referendum is non-binding, meaning if it were passed, aldermen would not be obligated to pass an ordinance or even consider one.

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