The University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago recently submitted bids to partner with the Obama Foundation to build the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago. Since that time, the Obama Foundation indicated concerns with both proposals.  The Obama Foundation expressed apprehensions about the transition in UIC leadership, and the fact that U of C has proposed to build the Obama Presidential Library on land currently owned by the Chicago Park District. The UIC immediately reaffirmed their commitment to the Library in the event they are the successful bidder. There are still site control issues surrounding the U of C bid.

In an effort to salvage the University of Chicago’s bid for an Obama Presidential Library, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District hosted two public hearings to convey Chicago Park District-owned land to the City of Chicago. In the event the Obama Foundation selects the University of Chicago’s bid, the City will then negotiate with the Obama Foundation to convey the land to the Foundation. Mayor Emanuel should be reminded of his promise to support both of Chicago’s bids for the Obama Presidential Library. 

For the last month, we have seen the Mayor jump through hoops to assist the University of Chicago’s bid by having the Chicago Park District to host public meetings on transferring park land to the city. There were just as many people at those meetings who testified against using park land for the Obama Presidential Library as there were those who testified in favor of using the land.  The University of Chicago testified that they needed up to 22 acres of park land in addition to 11 acres they already own across the street in Washington Park in order to build the Obama Presidential Library.  They did not say how they would use the park land, or whether it would remain free and open for years to come.  

Yet, the Mayor, aided and abetted by the mainstream media, is aggressively promoting the South Side bid and is giving a sense that building the Obama Presidential Library there is a done deal. He has said that the public meetings prove that South Side residents overwhelmingly support the Obama Presidential Library being built in either Washington Park or Jackson Park. When he spoke of meeting with all parties to build a consensus for “what to do next” (Chicago Tribune) and making it easy for the President and First Lady to choose Chicago for the Library, he mentioned meeting with the Park District, the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation.

What about the West Side? Several of us went to the public meetings, and were very pleased to see the level of discussion of pros and cons of the U of C proposal to use park land to develop the Obama Presidential Library. The UIC-North Lawndale proposal also involves the use of city-owned land, which will require public hearings to convey the land to the Obama Foundation.  The Mayor and the Department of Housing and Economic Development should begin the process of community hearings on the University of Illinois at Chicago’s proposal immediately so we can vet the UIC proposal as well.

Martin Luther King lived in North Lawndale in 1966, and many of the conditions he fought are still in existence, including the need for living wages and decent, affordable housing.  We have not seen coordinated development in our community in over 60 years in spite of the fact that every inch of it is in a TIF.  

Having the Obama Presidential Library in North Lawndale is great for the city, and the western region. Our site is 23 acres of contiguous city-owned land that is shovel-ready, and is a gateway to the Western Suburbs. It’s 15 minutes from Midway Airport and 45 minutes from O’Hare Airport. It’s in a TIF and is qualified for all kinds of federal programs and subsidies.  Building the Obama Presidential Library in North Lawndale would be a key driver of transformation, bringing billions of dollars in construction and infrastructure improvements, new hotels, restaurants, jobs and innovative university programs.  Build it in North Lawndale.