Obama library on South Side could bring in tourists, cash: study

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WASHINGTON — An Obama library on Chicago’s South Side would, according to an economic study done for the University of Chicago, lure enough visitors for 30 restaurants and 11 retailers nearby; create demand for a new hotel near the site; bolster state and local tax revenues, and spur other development and jobs. 

The University of Chicago commissioned a consulting firm, the Anderson Economic Group, to forecast the Chicago impact of an Obama presidential library and museum near its Hyde Park campus in advance of the looming June 16 deadline for submitting bids.

I’ve exclusively obtained an abridged version of the Anderson report, with the specific South Side sites the U. of C. is considering not included.

The study concludes the impact on the city “would be significant,” eventually climbing to $220 million in “total new spending” each year with 1,900 net new jobs — most generated through linked development — that would otherwise not exist.

The facility would draw 165,000 visitors to Chicago annually who would otherwise not visit the city, the study estimated, with attendance boosted by people coming  “due to President Obama’s status as the first African American president.”

The Anderson report will help the U. of C. fulfill a major requirement for bidders: to demonstrate how the library will be an “economic engine,” triggering growth in the surrounding community by attracting private and public investment.

The Obama library represents a unique opportunity to revive sagging parts of the South Side because “It is unlikely that other large projects of this kind would be built in these South Side communities, and the funding for construction would not occur in Chicago if not for the Obama Library being built,” the report concludes.

Another requirement for a bidder is to offer a “detailed description of land or building sites.”  The University of Chicago is consulting with South Side community leaders and the door is open, I am told, for other sites that might not be in the Anderson report, dated April 25.

I’ve learned from multiple sources that the sites most likely to be included in the U. of C. bid are:

◆ Land near Hyde Park High School, at 6220 S. Stony Island. (Obama spoke at the school in February 2013.)

◆ The area around 55th and King Drive.

◆ The South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. (The first couple held their wedding reception at the center in 1992.)

The U. of C. wants to strengthen its bid by giving President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle multiple options and by being open to other alternatives as the bidding process advances.

The Barack Obama Foundation, formed last January to oversee site selection and fundraising for the library, released bidding details on March 20. Entities making the first cut will be asked for detailed plans later this summer. The foundation expects to select a site in early 2015.

Other findings in the Anderson study:

◆ Construction costs, including design fees, etc., would total $380 million, based on a facility of 200,000 square feet, which would make it the second biggest of the 13 libraries in the federal presidential system. During construction, some 3,280 jobs would be generated.

The study did not take into account a controversial proposal by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, for the state to contribute $100 million toward the costs of building the library.

◆ The annual payroll, including benefits for employees of the library and foundation would total $4.2 million, with 100 new jobs. Local vendors would benefit from $3.3 million in yearly spending.

◆ The museum, fueled with the massive Chicago area population, would draw an estimated 800,000 visitors a year, with about 350,000 from outside Chicago.

◆ The potential of a new South Side hotel is based on the projection that even if only one in 10 out-of-town visitors want to stay near the library, “that will result in more-than adequate demand for construction of a new hotel.”

Susan Sher, the U. of C. executive overseeing the bid — and former chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama — said in a statement, “the University and its community partners believe private-public partnerships would further amplify the Library’s economic and cultural benefits for the South Side and the city.

“The University of Chicago recently has worked with local residents, businesses, elected officials and the City of Chicago in a successful effort to revitalize the key commercial corridor of 53rd St. in Hyde Park. Similar collaborations could help the Obama Presidential Library become an anchor for even broader economic development that creates jobs and enriches quality of life on the South Side.”

The U. of C. is competing against bids expected from Chicago State University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the state of Hawaii and Columbia University in New York. Chicago State, offering a site on the campus, near 95th and King Drive, is also finalizing an economic impact statement.

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