The proposed ordinance gets the center one step closer to becoming a reality in the historic park.
The Obama Foundation is poised to clear another hurdle in its quest to put its Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
The foundation will have limited 99-year term use for the Obama Presidential Center under a proposed land-use ordinance presented by the city’s planning and development commission today. The ordinance goes before the City Council on Sept. 20, along with an ordinance that covers vacation and dedication of the roadways surrounding the planned presidential center.
Under terms of the agreement, the Obama Foundation will be responsible for maintaining and keeping in good repair the grounds and buildings, while the City of Chicago will own the buildings and grounds. By contrast, the 11 official Museums in the Parks all have agreements in perpetuity. The foundation will pay the city $10 for the 99-year agreement.
Execution of the ordinance hinges on the Obama Foundation meeting several requirements, among them demonstrating that it has ample financing to build the center, an estimated $350 million project, and that the center passes the required National Environmental Policy Act federal review. The review is underway and is now being handled by the National Parks Service, not the Federal Highway Administration.
The agreement likens the center to a museum in the park; however, it will not receive tax-based operating support or capital, as do the 11 official Museums in the Parks, according to the agreement.
The agreement answers several questions posed by opponents of the center’s location on 19.3 acres in Jackson Park, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It brings the center one step closer to fruition, and comes on the heels of the city’s decision to halt the construction of an athletic field on one end of the park. Chicago Park District and city officials have said that the new field was long in the works and has nothing to do with the construction of the center.
While the construction work, which involved cutting down 40 mature trees, was “appropriate, prudent and in conformance with federal law,” the city is halting construction “in an abundance of caution and to allay any doubts about the intentions of the city in respect to the ongoing federal reviews,” according to Shannon Breymaier, deputy director of communications for the mayor’s office.
According to the land-use agreement, the Obama Presidential Center must offer free admission 52 days of the year and offer parking rates on par with rates at the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science & Industry. The grounds surrounding the center must be accessible to the public during Chicago Park District hours; the center can use the center’s green space and plaza for private events for no more than 15 days a year, and may not hold political fundraisers on the grounds.
The agreement also stipulates that the city reimburse the Obama Foundation, up to $75,000, for an environmental investigation of the property and “incremental remediation costs.”
Regarding road closures and traffic reroutes around the planned center: Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said that the proposed widening of Lake Shore Drive and Hayes will take place before Cornell and other roads are closed, to accommodate rerouted traffic flow around the center. Scheinfeld estimated a year and a half of construction, in phases, on the pertinent roads surrounding the center. Groundbreaking on the center is expected to begin next year.