Obama Foundation deal with Chicago calls for $10 fee on 99-year lease: reports

The foundation behind the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago has a tentative agreement with the city to pay just $10 to use 19.3 acres of city park space for 99 years, according to a report.

The accord is described in legislation that Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration will send to the City Council on Thursday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

If approved, the proposals will bring the estimated $350 million project closer to reality.

Per the agreement, the city will own the buildings and grounds, while the Obama Foundation will be responsible for the center’s upkeep and management, Crain’s Chicago Business reported.

Former President Barack Obama describes the plans for the Obama Presidential Center during an appearance in Chicago.

Former President Barack Obama describes the plans for the Obama Presidential Center during an appearance in Chicago. (Associated Press)

“This is the next step in a process that has been ongoing for years,” Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman said.

Under terms of the deal, the Obama Foundation must prove it can cover the cost of construction without taxpayer subsidies, a condition that contrasts with the 11 official Museums in the Parks, which all receive taxpayer money and have lease agreements in perpetuity.

The project must also pass a federal review under the National Environmental Policy Act, Crain's reported.

But the deal to develop on Jackson Park has not been without controversy. Margaret Schmid, co-founder of Jackson Park Watch, criticized the idea of leasing public land to the foundation.

“The idea of leasing invaluable, irreplaceable public parkland to a private entity for $10 for 99 years is astounding in this era when public lands and natural resources are under attack in so many places,” Schmid said. “Besides, Chicago’s finances are extremely precarious. Yes, this is symbolic, but symbolism is significant.”

“The idea of leasing invaluable, irreplaceable public parkland to a private entity for $10 for 99 years is astounding in this era when public lands and natural resources are under attack in so many places.”

— Margaret Schmid, co-founder, Jackson Park Watch

And earlier this year, the environmental group Protect Our Parks filed a lawsuit in federal court against Chicago and the Chicago Park District arguing that the presidential center should not be given access to public land because it is not a presidential library, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The foundation said in May 2017 that Obama’s official presidential library will not be housed at the Jackson Park campus. A permanent location for the Obama Presidential Library is still being determined.

The foundation did not publicly address the lawsuit until Tuesday.

"We believe the suit is without merit, but we are taking it very, very seriously."

— David Simas, chief executive, Obama Foundation

David Simas, chief executive of the foundation, said “the suit is without merit, but we are taking it very, very seriously.” He argued that in practice, the presidential center amounts to a public park and will abide by Park District rules.