University Of Chicago Wants 20-Plus Acres Of Park To Build Obama Presidential Library

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 7, 2015 4:30PM

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An illustration of potential development along Garfield Boulevard, near a proposed site for the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood. (Image credit: University of Chicago)

Not much has been revealed about the University of Chicago's proposal for the Obama Presidential Library other than the school doesn't own the land it needs to win the bid.

Until today. For the first time, U of C revealed details of their bid for the Obama Presidential Library on the university's website and they're seeking 21 acres of land for their proposed Jackson Park site and 22 acres of land in Washington Park for the Barack Obama Foundation to choose from if Chicago wins the bidding for the Obama Library. The revelation coincides with a push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to acquire Park District property in an attempt to salvage the U of C bid.

The university said the two sites were chosen because the library could be the catalyst for economic revitalization on the South Side.

“Locating the Barack Obama Presidential Library on Chicago’s South Side offers a rare chance to reinvigorate the economy of nearby communities and make improvements for the area’s infrastructure and parks,” said Susan Sher, senior adviser to University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “We look forward to hearing further community input regarding the proposed sites in Washington Park or Woodlawn, where the presidential library will create a global destination for learning and engagement.”

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An overview of two proposed sites for the Obama Presidential Library - one in Chicago's Washington Park neighborhood, the other in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood. Both options would include the use of parkland and would provide opportunities for investment in parks and infrastructure, as well as economic development of nearby communities. (Image credit: University of Chicago)

U of C said it has met with "dozens of local organizations, elected officials, city agency representatives and preliminary conversations with the Barack Obama Foundation" to narrow 20 possible sites to the two in their bid." Jackson Park and Washington Park were chosen because the sites would not displace any local residents, are easily accessible for potential visitors and would result in "new investments for underutilized South Side parks."

Sher said, “The presidential library would be a new jewel for the South Side park system, alongside public cultural institutions such as the Museum of Science and Industry and the DuSable Museum of African American History" and stressed the end result would be "park-positive," meaning the community would have more usable parkland from the process than the Obama Library would occupy.

Emanuel said he will announce a plan to acquire land to bolster the university's bid for the Obama Presidential Library and promised a transparent process, while the Park District seems ready to part with any necessary land to build the library if the bid is successful. Although the city and U of C have promised public hearings on the process, issues of transparency remain given Emanuel's willingness to sweep in with the land acquisition plan. Advocacy groups such as Friends of the Parks have promised to oppose any bid for the Obama Presidential Library that includes the use of Park District property and have brought their concerns about the bid to the Barack Obama Foundation.