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City Council Committee approves $10, 99-year deal for Obama Center

Former President Barack Obama meets with stakeholders and community members at the Obama Foundation’s headquarters in Hyde Park, Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 28, 2018. The meeting was called to provide an update on the Obama Center’s programming and a chance for the former president to thank the pre-selected group of community members. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

The City Council’s Committee on Housing and Real Estate Thursday unanimously approved an ordinance for the Obama Foundation to pay $10 for a 99-year agreement for the Obama Presidential Center, moving the foundation one step closer to being able to break ground on the project.

Before the vote, Ald. Raymond Lopez, (15th) and Ald. Deborah Mell, (33rd) pressed Obama Foundation members on the ongoing concerns that the center would displace longtime residents and that it would not be a presidential library.

“Those are concerns we share and we want to avoid [displacing people] as much as possible,” Department of Planning and Development Cmsr. David Reifman said.

Reifman went on to say that he and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) have been working together to bring in a new grocery store and a training programs for the jobs the center would bring. He also said he and  Hairston plan to monitor property values in the area surrounding the center.

Mell pressed Michael Strautmanis, the foundation’s vice president of civic engagement, and others about the full presidential archives not being located in the center. Some records will be digitized, but paper records will be in a facility in Kansas.

Strautmanis said that decision means the foundation won’t have to follow a lot of the rules set by the National Archives and Records Administration, which could influence the design and financing for the center.

The ordinance, which will now go before the City Council, included an amendment to a 2015 intergovernmental agreement that allows for the boundaries of the center’s campus to be shifted north and east and allows the city to acquire the title to the reconfigured site, which is now about 19.3 acres. It was previously 20 acres.

The second and third portions are a master and use agreement. The master agreement sets conditions that require the city to complete the federal review process and mandates that the foundation create an endowment and either receive funds or pledge commitments equaling or exceeding total construction costs.

The use agreement sets the $10 for 99-year term, and mandates that the foundation will keep buildings and green space in good condition at no cost to the city and requires the foundation to begin construction within one year after it’s signed. The foundation plans to break ground next year and open its doors in 2022.

The environmental agreement requires the foundation to perform an environmental investigation on the site.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month sent the ordinance to the City Council along with another ordinance that clears the way for the reconfiguring of Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive as green space. The move to close Cornell has been a controversial one since it was announced.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Plan Commission approved the zoning for the center and authorized the development under the Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection ordinance.