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Friends of the Parks against using park land for Obama library

WASHINGTON — The Friends of the Parks, champions of preserving Chicago’s open lands, wants the Obama Presidential Library and Museum in Chicago – but is against the University of Chicago proposals, to be submitted on Thursday, to locate it on park lands.

“We do not believe the parks are the University of Chicago’s to offer up to the library,” Friends president Cassandra Francis told me on Tuesday.

“There needs to be a lot more discussion, given the controversial issue of building in a park,” Francis said.

The Barack Obama Foundation, headquartered in Chicago, on Thursday receives bids from the U. of Chicago, the University of Illinois/Chicago, the University of Hawaii and Columbia University in New York.

The foundation, headed by Obama friend Marty Nesbitt, has told bidders proposals will be kept confidential.

UIC is pitching three West Side sites the school has publicly identified.

The U. of Chicago has been secretive about its proposed locations for the library – never acknowledging in public their push to use Chicago Park District land. Instead, it has been trying to build public support by selling the project to community groups and other influencers in more generic terms to “bring it home” to the South Side.

I’ve reported the U. of Chicago sites from other sources: near Hyde Park High School, at 6220 S. Stony Island and Jackson Park; the area near 55th and King Drive and Washington Park and a park crown jewel, the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore, a historic landmark.

Metropolitan Planning Council President MarySue Barrett, like many civic-minded Chicagoans, wants the Obama facility in Chicago. But last August, Barrett’s MPC sent a letter to Nesbitt with a plea: “The Library should not be located in the city’s parks.”

On Tuesday, the MPC changed its position: “While several of the Chicago sites that advanced are in a park, MPC understands that locating the Library in these places still has great potential to bring value to surrounding neighborhoods — and the city and region as a whole.”

“ . . . However, if the chosen site depletes existing park space, we strongly encourage local partners, investors and the City of Chicago to replace that lost asset with new green space nearby, so that the Library is truly a net gain for everyone.”

That’s close to the “parks positive” plan being promoted by Susan Sher, the U. of Chicago executive overseeing the library bid – and former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.

Sher told me in an interview last week about her “parks positive” proposals. She said she assured the Chicago Park District that the U. of Chicago would work to restore and beautify parks and get the district more land than it gives up.

Francis said that approach “is not an appropriate solution.”

I also reported last week that in a little-noticed move, Chicago Park District president Bryan Traubert, the husband of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, recused himself. The board vice president, Avis LaVelle, told me she would seek public input at some point.

I want the Obama library and museum in Chicago, my city.

Should it be at the magnificent South Shore Cultural Center? How much land in Washington and Jackson parks is at issue?

That’s worthy of public discussion – and sooner, rather than later.