City introduces ordinances to own/lease back Obama Presidential Center, establish land use, roadway variances

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obama center rendering

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says that two ordinances have been introduced to City Council that establish the terms and conditions of the land use and authorize roadway vacations related to the Obama Presidential Center (OPC).

“The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Chicago to host a museum honoring the country’s first African-American president; create a cultural, recreational and educational asset for Chicago residents and magnet for visitors to our global city; and generate billions of dollars in economic impact,” Emanuel said in a statement. “The ordinances introduced today represent a significant step forward in achieving what will be the largest private investment in the history of the South Side of Chicago.”

The Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has introduced an ordinance that contains a Master Agreement, Use Agreement and Environmental Agreement between the Obama Foundation and the City of Chicago.

The Master Agreement establishes conditions to the obligation of the city to enter into the Use Agreement, including that the city has completed the federal review process and that the Foundation has received funds or pledge commitments equaling or exceeding projected total hard construction costs.

In consideration for the foundation’s commitment to build and maintain the OPC at the foundation’s expense, the Use Agreement gives the Obama Foundation the right to occupy, use and maintain the land free of charge (with a nominal one-time $10 fee) for the benefit of the public. Unlike other major museums located in Chicago parks which have the right to use park land free of charge in perpetuity, the OPC will have a 99 year term (any extension would require City Council approval) and will not receive tax-based operating or capital support. Upon completion of construction, the buildings and other improvements on the site will become the property of the city.

The foundation must comply with the Museum Act’s free admission requirements. Parking fees must be consistent with the rates charged at the Museum of Science and Industry or in the North Garage adjacent to the Field Museum, and these fees may solely be used on OPC operations, maintenance and management or deposited into the endowment. The green space surrounding the OPC buildings will continue to be publicly accessible and open during Chicago Park District hours, and the foundation is required to keep the buildings and surrounding open space in good condition and repair at no cost to the city.

The agreement says the foundation is obligated to pay prevailing wage rates during construction and comply with city residency and M/WBE requirements.

Among other things, the Environmental Agreement requires the foundation to perform an environmental investigation of the OPC site and remediate contamination exceeding residential remediation standards. The city is required to reimburse the foundation for any incremental remediation costs.

The DPD ordinance also authorizes an amendment to the 2015 Intergovernmental Agreement between the city and the Chicago Park District that provided for the transfer of land in Jackson Park or Washington Park to the city for subsequent use by the Obama Foundation for the construction, operation and maintenance of the OPC. Since the passage of that ordinance, following subsequent in-depth consideration by the Obama Foundation, city departments and the community, the site boundaries within Jackson Park have been adjusted to the north and east. The amendment authorizes the city to acquire the title from the Park District to the reconfigured site in Jackson Park, which is approximately the same size as the original site (19.3 acres and 20 acres, respectively).

Next, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) has introduced an ordinance that facilitates the vacation of existing dedicated public right-of-way on Cornell Drive from North Midway Plaisance to approximately 62nd Street. and South Midway Plaisance from Stony Island Avenue to Cornell Drive. The ordinance conveys the land to the City of Chicago; this vacated land will be part of the OPC site.

In May of 2018, the Chicago Plan Commission and Chicago City Council approved the 19.3 acre site on the 5900-6200 blocks of South Stony Island Avenue along the western edge of Jackson Park for construction. The recent ordinance introduction follows three years of work that began in 2015 when the Foundation selected Chicago to be the home of the OPC.

Since that time, the Emanuel Administration and foundation staff, in coordination with DPD, CDOT, the Chicago Department of Law and the Chicago Park District worked on the plans with Ald. Leslie Hairston; local community groups and stakeholders; and state and federal officials.

Federal reviews are currently underway under NEPA and Section 106 for the UPARR conversion and funding under the Federal-Aid Highway Act for roadway improvements in Jackson Park.

The foundation is expected to break ground for the OPC next year.

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