Dec. 11 is the deadline for the finalists vying for the Obama Presidential Library to submit their proposals to the Barack Obama Foundation for consideration.

Paul Norrington, a founding member of the North Lawndale group, whose site is among the four finalists, said he’s confident his group will be chosen by the President and First Lady when they make their decision early next year.

The 12-person North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago on the proposal. The other three finalists are the University of Chicago, Columbia University in New York, and the University of Hawaii. The finalists were announced in September. The North Lawndale (NL) group hosted a community meeting Saturday concerning their proposal (see accompanying story).

In a prior interview with Austin Weekly News, Norrington said the NL committee and UIC are working on their RFP (request for proposal) to submit to the foundation next month.

Among the requirements the foundation is looking for is how the university will develop the site, and how it will partner with community organizations. A retired North Lawndale resident and current block club president, Norrington was the first to come up with the idea of the neighborhood going for the library. He pitched it to the K-Town Historic District Association, which the NL committee grew out of.  

The UIC-North Lawndale group has a leg up on the other sites because of their site location, Norrington said.

The Lawndale site covers 32 acres along Kostner Avenue between Roosevelt Road and West 5th Avenue. It’s a sprawling, vacant piece of land in the section of North Lawndale known as “K-Town.” It’s not far from downtown and is directly accessible to public transportation and the Eisenhower Expressway. The site is also surrounded by multi-ethnic communities — black and Hispanic in Little Village — unlike the other three finalists, Norrington said.

The site, he added, is also in close proximity to suburban communities, which the library could also benefit. North Lawndale, he said, also has roots to the Jewish community, which comprised the neighborhood’s population before African Americans moved in.

“All of those things are addressed in our site, and none of the other sites can say that,” Norrington said. “The president is a multicultural person representing a multicultural nation, and our site gives the library the opportunity to address the multiculturalism of this country.” 

Another advantage is that the North Lawndale effort is truly grassroots. The other finalists began with a university that looked to bring in community partners — also unlike North Lawndale, Norrington said.

After the committee formed last spring, they went looking for a university partner and linked up with UIC. The library and museum would help revitalize North Lawndale economically, and socially, Norrington insists.

The North Lawndale committee has drawn support from many in the community and from elected officials. State Rep. LaShawn Ford of Austin said he supports the neighborhood getting the library.

“It would be an economic boom and the largest investment we could bring to the West Side of Chicago,” he said in a recent interview.

“Every effort should be made to bring it here because jobs are very scarce in the area. This could bring jobs and new development around the library,” he said, referring to the library as “the West Side’s Olympics.”

“The South Side benefited from the Olympics [application] and [the library] could benefit the West Side with more development and more jobs,” Ford said.

North Lawndale has historically suffered from high crime, job losses and meager overall development. The proposed site has also suffered from neglect and misuse.

It was ensnared in the federal Operation Silver Shovel investigation of political and business corruption in the city. The site was used for illegal waste dumping in the 1990s, stemming from bribes to local politicians from construction companies vying for lucrative city contracts. The investigation led to the indictment of several city aldermen, including Austin’s Percy Giles of the 37th Ward, for bribery and other crimes.

But despite such misuse and abuse, the site, which has sat vacate for years, is ready for new life, Norrington said.

“I fully expect us to get the library,” he said. “This is about not just developing the neighborhood, but the community.”


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Supporters: Obama Library would revitalize North Lawndale