President Barack Obama’s presidential library will most likely be built on the South Side under the auspices of the University of Chicago, according to media reports. The official announcement will be made Tuesday, May 12.
The University of Chicago (U of C) was one among four entities bidding to develop the site. The others were the University of Illinois at Chicago, in cooperation with the North Lawndale community; Columbia University in New York City, the president’s alma mater; and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
The U of C had been the presumptive favorite since the competition for the library began in 2014, when the Barack Obama Foundation — the organization charged with shepherding the process of establishing a presidential library, and safeguarding the historical legacy, of the nation’s first black president — was created.
The next major decision the foundation will likely make is whether or not to build the library on Jackson or Washington Parks. In March, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved a measure to cede a portion of whichever public park is selected for the library site. It was one of the last major legislative hurdles cleared by proponents of the library.
According to a May 4 Chicago Sun-Times article, “Both parks are near economically depressed communities. A priority of the foundation, which works at the behest of President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle, is to make the Obama complex an economic engine strong enough to revive its surrounding community.”
A May 1 Chicago Tribune article notes that the losing bidders may get some concessions — that is, all but the West Side-based UIC-Lawndale proposal.
While Columbia University’s Harlem site could potentially be made available for the offices of the president and his Foundation (according to various media reports, it’s a not-so-quiet secret that the Obamas would like to live out their post-presidency days in New York City) and Hawaii officials have been told that, instead of the library, “they would [be] allowed to build a project that represents the state’s ties with the president” (perhaps a presidential center) — there have been no such consolation prizes for UIC’s West Side bid.
When it was disclosed in an April 30 CBS Local report that the foundation would likely select the U of C’s South Side sites as the home of the Obama library, the North Lawndale Presidential Library Association reacted on its Facebook page:
“Today’s news reports are very discouraging. But this project has been full of discouraging moments since its inception. Any which of them could have stopped us.
“The two constants in this cause have been hope and faith; hope that with hard work, obtainable goals can be obtained, even by us; and faith in the people of Chicago’s Westside to work for that opportunity. It was that hope that led to us still standing when so many others are not.
“So what if we fall short; what do we do then? The efforts to win this bid have resulted in North Lawndale garnering new interest. Regardless of the final decision, we have new opportunities. What do we do with them?”