The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Supporters, Opponents Of Obama Presidential Library Proposal Pack Hearing

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 14, 2015 8:15PM

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)

A crowd of people packed Hyde Park Community Academy Tuesday night for the first public hearing regarding the University of Chicago’s bid for the Obama Presidential Library and the Emanuel administration’s efforts to acquire more than 20 acres of parkland in an attempt to make the bid more attractive to the Barack Obama Foundation.

The crowd, largely supporters of the library bid, listened and were riled up by preachers advocating the Obama Library belongs on the South Side and sat in silence as opponents of using any public land for the university’s bid made their case. Now we know why Mayor Rahm Emanuel
about U of C’s bid now that he wants to give the university 20 acres of parkland.

The Rev. Byron Brazier was one of the more vocal proponents of the bid and said 20 acres of land was a pittance to pay, given the thousands of acres in Washington and Jackson Parks to choose from. “The library should be in one of our communities,” Brazier added.

Lauren Moltz, chairwoman of the board at Friends of the Parks, said the land is “not the city of Chicago's, the Chicago Park District's or the University of Chicago's to carve up and give away.” Real estate attorney Graham Grady suggested that new parkland be used for the library site and that the university could give the Park District property in Washington Park for the project.

U of C vice president of civic engagement Derek Douglas told the crowd Park District land is essential because the university does not own “a 20 to 30 acres parcel of contiguous land to house the campus without displacing people.” (Nor does the university plan on buying any more land to bolster their bid.) Douglas’ comment drew criticism from architect John Vinci.

“What are they going to do when they say they are going to build hotels and stores?” Vinci asked. The end result will still likely lead to neighborhood residents displaced through eminent domain, he said: “They are going to condemn your buildings.”

Emanuel was nowhere to be found at the meeting, but mayoral candidates Bob Fioretti, Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and Willie Wilson were in attendance. Outside the meeting, protesters staged a sit-in calling for U of C to build a trauma center in its hospital instead of move forward with the library bid.

If last night's hearing is an indication, opponents of the land acquisition process have a lot of work to do to sway supporters who want to see the Obama Library in Chicago. As we've noted before, there are other sites that could (and should) be considered. The Michael Reese Hospital site is still waiting development. The Reader's Ben Joravsky believes North Lawndale would make an acceptable area for the bid.

But the debate is being largely driven by emotion and standard Chicago territorialism: "we want the library." Emanuel, whose announcement to acquire the land is not exactly democratic, wouldn't address questions on whether the university will be required to replace the land they'll get if their bid is successful. Marty Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, was receptive to U of C releasing its plans last week