Emanuel's Obama Library Land Grab Plan Sent To City Council

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jan 22, 2015 3:30PM

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An illustration of potential development along Stony Island Avenue, near a proposed site for the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago's Woodlawn neighborhood.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to use parkland to bolster the University of Chicago’s bid for the Obama Presidential Library started in earnest Wednesday when he introduced an ordinance asking the Chicago Park District to cede 21 acres of land in Washington Park or 20 acres in Jackson Park for the university’s bid. The land would only be given to U of C only if the Barack Obama Foundation chooses one of the university’s proposed sites.

An intergovernmental agreement calls for as much as five acres of land to be used to build the library, with the remaining parkland used as open space. It also calls for the city to replace that parkland elsewhere. How much would this transfer of public space cost, if approved?

One dollar. You can’t buy a cup of coffee for a dollar these days.

Emanuel’s plan has pitted supporters of having the library on the South Side against preservationists who question the legality of the mayor’s plan to cede public space for U of C’s bid. Friends of the Parks president Cassandra Francis said her group and other open space advocates will not rule out taking the city to court, as they have with Emanuel’s plan to give lakefront property to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. (That’s another transfer that cost $1.)

The Obama Foundation is considering other bids for the library in New York City, Hawaii, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. UIC’s bid includes developing 23 acres of vacant land already owned by the city and would have historic and social impact tying Martin Luther King’s fight for fair housing in Chicago to the nation’s first black president. Hawaii’s bid is significant because Obama was born there (sorry, conspiracy theorists, the birth certificate is real). New York’s bid is significant because it’s New York.

Emanuel seems to only care to stick it to New York and said “it is essential that the president's library is here in the City of Chicago and not in New York.” "And I will do as necessary, through my office and the office of the mayor, to move heaven and earth to make this happen."

Given the overwhelming majority of aldermen who vote in lockstep with Emanuel, it's hard to see any major opposition to his ordinance happening.