University of Chicago Touts Park Restoration in Obama Library Bid

U of C, UIC Deliver Final Pitches Tomorrow

The University of Chicago and UIC are going head to head in the race to land the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. Final bids are due tomorrow to the Obama Foundation.

The U of C has confirmed for us tonight the possible locations they are pitching for a potential Presidential Library and Museum. Each site would likely involve Chicago Park District land, which would need approval from the city. They are hoping the Obamas choose to locate at 55th and King Drive on the western edge of Washington Park; 71st and Stony Island, near the shore of Lake Michigan and the South Shore Cultural Center; or in Woodlawn on Jackson Park, near Hyde Park High School.

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The chair of University of Chicago’s bid, Susan Sher who is also First Lady Michelle Obama’s former Chief of Staff, said community groups are fully behind the sites, and that restoration of these historic parks is a core part of what they hope to accomplish by bringing the library to the south side.

“If you look at Washington Park and Jackson Park, these are parks that really need to be restored,” Sher said. “They’re these beautiful Olmsted Parks, and there are little areas that are used, and other areas that are not used. We are advocating that parkland be restored, made accessible to everyone, and beautiful.”

But putting an entity like this in a park is always a cause for controversy in this city. The nonprofit group Friends of the Parks is suing to block the Lucas Museum from going up on the lakefront, and they’ve said they oppose a presidential library in a park.

University of Illinois-Chicago officials say they are confident they have the best bid, and their three proposed locations include a strip of land on Harrison just west of the Jane Byrne Interchange, noted for its access to public transportation; and a 26-acre parcel of land in North Lawndale bordered by Roosevelt, Kostner, and Kildare avenues. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has written the Obama Foundation pledging city support for this location, and even promising to reopen an L stop nearby that has been shuttered for 40 years.

“The mayor has committed to working with us in opening the Kostner Blue Line Station,” said UIC Obama Library Steering Committee member Michael Pagano. “Also to providing TIF revenue to develop and enhance that area and to transferring the land which is owned by the city to the Obama Foundation.”

Michael Pagano, member of University of Illinois at Chicago’s Obama Library Steering Committee and dean of UIC’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, talks about UIC’s bid for the library in this web extra video

But the mayor cautions that this doesn’t mean he’s favoring UIC over U of C. He says he has provided public support for both bids and says the economic benefits of landing the library would be unprecedented.

“If it is on the south side or west side, it will add to the economic benefits, not to the city as a whole, but to that neighborhood. And that would be an economic boom that you cannot replicate any other way,” he said. “And I’m for the City of Chicago.”

In fact, Sher said she commissioned a study that said the library would bring a new hotel, 40 new retail stores and restaurants, 1,900 permanent jobs, and $30 million injected into the local economy.

The final bids in which each school will make the case that they are the most qualified to land the museum are due tomorrow.

“The south side of Chicago is the perfect location,” Sher said. “It’s this amazing urban area with great challenges and great strengths, and there’s no place that is as home to the Obamas as Chicago is, particularly the south side.”

Susan Sher, Senior Adviser to the President of the University of Chicago, Head of the Obama Library Committee, and former Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, talks about University of Chicago’s bid for the library in this web extra video.

But Pagano says he’s confident UIC can win over the Obama Foundation because the institution’s values are aligned with the president’s.

“The mission of the university aligns itself perfectly with the Obama administration,” Pagano said. “Providing access to education, health care, providing all people access to what the United States is all about.”

The University of Hawaii and Columbia University in New York are also finalists. The University of Chicago has listed nearly all of the Chicago region’s colleges and universities as partners on their bid, except for UIC. But both sides said they will work together should the Obama’s choose either of their bids, and that choice is expected to come early next year.

View a map of the proposed U of C and UIC locations for the library.




-- Map created by Travis Cornejo

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