Chicago City Council Unanimously Approves Final City Hurdle for Obama Library

The ordinance passed includes numerous agreements between the city and the Obama Foundation surrounding how they plan to ensure the center provides “substantial public benefits"

The Obama Presidential Center and Museum cleared its final hurdle in Chicago’s City Council Wednesday as officials unanimously passed the last step in the city’s approval process for the highly-anticipated venue.

The ordinance passed includes numerous agreements between the city and the Obama Foundation surrounding how they plan to ensure the center provides “substantial public benefits.” The group also passed a related ordinance authorizing “road and pedestrian safety improvements.”

“Thank you to Mayor Emanuel, to the City Council, especially Leslie Hairston, who worked so hard on this, and everyone in the City of Chicago who supported the Presidential Center from the start,” President Obama said in a video shared after the vote. “Michelle and I could not be prouder or more excited to bring the Center to the South Side, a community that has given us both so much.” 

The agreement allows the foundation to occupy the 19.3 acres in Jackson Park to build the center. After it is built, the buildings will be deeded to the city and owned by “the people of Chicago.”

“Today’s vote advances our vision of an Obama Presidential Center and Museum that is a world-class amenity on the South Side of Chicago, an investment in our neighbors and this entire City, and an opportunity to revitalize Jackson Park,” Obama Foundation CEO David Simas said in a statement. “It will also serve as a reminder to all our children that their potential is limitless.” 

The Obama Foundation says it plans to break ground on the center next year despite facing lawsuit and still needing federal approval.

Emanuel said the building will “create thousands upon thousands of jobs” and will be the first presidential library with a neighborhood branch library in it.

“It’s a tremendous cultural and educational opportunity that will be felt for generations,” Emanuel said.

Still, advocacy group Friends of Parks said it maintains its belief “that the Obama Presidential Center should not be built in a park.”

“While we welcome it to Chicago and particularly the South Side with which the Obamas have such deep connections, we have consistently called for it to be located on the 11 acres of vacant land across the street from Washington Park,” the group said in a statement.

In a lawsuit, an environmental group called Protect Our Parks contends that the center shouldn't be built in Jackson Park on the South Side because the transfer of parkland to a private entity violates state law. The city says there is no such violation.

A federal judge plans to announce in December a trial date in the lawsuit challenging the construction.

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