Obama library: Key players for the next steps

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WASHINGTON — After the Tuesday announcement that the Obama library, museum and presidential center will be on Chicago’s South Side, the next big steps will be to broker deals with the neighborhoods most affected by the development.

“Consultations and input needs to occur,” said MarySue Barrett, the president of the Metropolitan Planning Council. “There’s probably good lessons to learn from the other host cities and institutions.


“. . . It’s important that there be an open and engaged discussion that invites input from stakeholders, people who know about neighborhood economic development, about major centers, cultural tourist centers like this,” she said.

For example, said Barrett: What improvements should be made to the CTA and Metra stations and bus lines that serve the South Side? What about bike paths and pedestrian access?

A lot of public discussion about the details has been muffled, in order to not dampen Chicago’s chance of landing the Obama complex. But after Tuesday, I am betting interested parties — some with competing interests — will be more bold in speaking out.

The main players:

• The Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation, led by Obama friend Martin Nesbitt.

• President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle, and a small group of advisers in and out of the White House.

• The University of Chicago, winning the bid to host the development – most of which will be on land the school does not own and will not control.

• The City of Chicago, which will hold the deed to the site.

• The National Archives and Records Administration.

• Local civic, community, religious and other related groups.

The Metropolitan Planning Council is a nonprofit, nonpartisan civic regional planning organization, founded in 1934. It is positioned to play a leadership role in planning for the Obama development, especially when it comes to local transit and other infrastructure improvements and making up for lost parkland.

“We definitely intend to make a contribution and be a resource,” Barrett said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

“. . . There’s been some discussion already about neighborhood economic development impact, about enhancing infrastructure,” she said.

“Certainly drawing a lot more people to this mid-South community will present opportunities and will present some pressures,” she said.

On Tuesday, the Barack Obama Foundation will hold a press conference in Chicago to announce that Chicago will be the home of the Obama complex. A video featuring President Barack Obama and the first lady on the selection of Chicago to house the Obama development also will be released.

The Obama foundation holds the cards on the specific site: Jackson Park or Washington Park.

The foundation timeline calls for the next step to be the selection of an architect, and that person or firm could have crucial input in choosing the park, both not far from the main Hyde Park campus of the winning bidder, the University of Chicago.

The city and park district pledged that the loss of public parkland will be made up to a net “park positive.” What that means, exactly, has not been worked out.

Barrett said there is a need for someone to be “making sure that there’s no net loss and that the community feels like it’s a legitimate trade.”

The National Archives and Records Administration also has a variety of specifications for what will be the 14th federal presidential library. The Abraham Lincoln library in Springfield is not part of the federal presidential library system.

Indeed, the foundation does not have a totally free hand in building the Obama complex. NARA’s Office of Presidential Libraries must sign off on the endowment, the design and construction, and a variety of that agency’s specifications that must be considered — down to the size of the gift shop.

The Obama complex and related programming — such as conferences or special exhibits — will be paid for with private money, most of which is expected to be raised by the foundation. The foundation bid documents asked the bidders to detail potential capital contribution. It’s not known what financial assistance the U. of C. put on the table.

Local governments also can help. Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote the foundation with a promise of a package of infrastructure improvements and economic development assistance to give an economic shot in the arm to the host neighborhood.

The City Council and the Chicago Park District already have approved transferring whichever park is chosen as the site to the city for $1.

Said Barrett, “There’s lots of good ideas; not all of them will be possible. There’s a price tag. There’s a negotiation about who’s responsible for what, but clarity will help make this the biggest net positive, not just for mid-south community, but for the entire city and region.”

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