The Obama Foundation, which is managing the national competition to build the Obama Presidential Library, expressed dismay over the fact that the University of Chicago submitted a bid to use park land that they did not own or control to build the library. As a result, news stories have abounded regarding the potential for President Obama to build his library in New York.
In an effort to improve the University of Chicago’s chances of winning the competition, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance last week to transfer 20 acres in Jackson Park or 21 acres in Washington Park from the Chicago Park District to the City of Chicago for $1.00. Land from one of these sites would only be conveyed if President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama decided to build the Obama Presidential Library there.
The ordinance was introduced with the support of 42 of Chicago’s 50 aldermen, including the following West Side aldermen: George Cardenas (12th), Michael D. Chandler (24th), Danny Solis (25th), Walter Burnett (27th), Jason Ervin (28th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th).
Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd) and Alderman Bob Fioretti (2nd) are the only two West Side aldermen who did not sign onto the ordinance prior to its introduction in City Council. They support the Obama Presidential Library coming to Chicago, but prefer to explore alternatives to building the library on Chicago Park District land.
While the Mayor promised to support the bid from the University of Chicago, as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago, it is very clear from reading this ordinance that the University of Chicago bid is favored.
For example, one of the recitals (or background facts) for the University of Chicago bid states that the city “will introduce a separate ordinance authorizing the development, construction and operation of the Presidential Center on the Selected Site, if [U of C’s] proposal is selected.”
In contrast, a recital describing the UIC-North Lawndale bid states that the city “supports the conveyance of City land in the North Lawndale community for the Library and Museum and the City Council will work to ensure that conveyance is conducted quickly and at minimal cost.”
There is no language to indicate what other pre-development support might go along with conveying the land. There is no such language to the effect of ‘if the UIC-North Lawndale bid is selected,’ as if the thought of the West Side bid winning never entered the mayor’s mind. Granted, I could be reaching, but I still have to wonder about the extent of the city’s commitment to the West Side bid.
There has not been any major media coverage of West Side elected officials supporting the West Side bid and this ordinance is more heavily focused on the South Side bid. Without any context, the fact that West Side aldermen signed the ordinance gives the impression that West Side aldermen have unified behind the South Side bid without supporting their own West Side bid.
It doesn’t help that the mayor refused to host hearings concerning the proposed conveyance of city-owned land to the Obama Foundation for the UIC-North Lawndale bid, or that there seems to be a media blackout of the West Side bid.
The good thing is that our West Side elected officials and their west suburban counterparts are committed to hosting a public meeting on the UIC-North Lawndale bid to take place within the next few days at United Baptist Church, 4242 West Roosevelt Road from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
With any luck, the next ordinance coming out of City Hall on the matter will be for a community benefits agreement outlining provisions for affordable housing, employment, contracting and ways residents could benefit from development opportunities, while minimizing displacement.