U. of Chicago pitches partners in Obama library bid

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WASHINGTON—The University of Chicago bid for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum, to be submitted on Monday, will include a powerful pitch to President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle, developed with community partners, on how a mid-South Side facility can “impact” lives.

“Community engagement has been, I would say, the central feature to date of our effort in putting together this proposal,” said Derek Douglas, the U. of C. Vice President for Civic Engagement.

Douglas said that outreach “helped shape the ideas” in the proposal, which at this stage of the bidding process will be more conceptual than concrete.

All told, said Douglas, the point is to have the school and its partners demonstrate to the First Couple—who make the decision—“how the library can have a direct impact on lives,” he said.

Douglas’ remarks came in a briefing for reporters with school officials and six potential partners on Friday. Douglas joined the school in 2012 after serving in the Obama White House as the Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs.

Though the U. of C., with its main campus in Hyde Park, has been the frontrunner from the start, working on its proposal for more than a year, “We take nothing for granted,’ said Susan Sher, the U. of C. executive who is quarterbacking the bid.

The Chicago potential collaborations to be highlighted in the bid are part of the effort to land the library on the mid-South Side to create “the ideal platform to build a case the library belongs here,” said Sher, Mrs. Obama’s former chief of staff.

Torrey L. Barrett,Executive Director of the KLEO Community Family Life Center, told reporters he envisioned an Obama library with programs featuring local youthful talent.

Dr. Byron T. Brazier, the Pastor of the Apostolic Church of God and the chairman of the Network of Woodlawn said the library would be an “anchor” to showcasing historic African American communities on the mid-South Side.

James G. Keane, President and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago talked about possible nutrition, health care and fitness programs for youths linked to the library. “We would love to expand our presence on the South Side,” Keane said.

David Mosena, President and CEO, Museum of Science and Industry, a few blocks from the U. of C. said “we see the library as a non-traditional laboratory space,” with programs encouraging youths to pursue science and engineering careers.

Kamau Murray, President and Founder, XS Tennis and Education Foundation, dedicated to encouraging and training minority tennis players, was not looking per se for a tennis court at the library—but “a venue” for organizations “to collectively do great work.

Sophia Shaw, the President and CEO of the Chicago Botanic Garden, talked about the possibility helping manage a garden at the library—on the roof or on the ground if that ended up in the final plan.

The bids will be submitted to the Chicago-based Barack Obama Presidential Foundation, headed by the president’s close friend, Marty Nesbitt. The bid documents—called the “Request for Qualifications” released last March by design did not ask for blueprints or money. Those making the first cut will be asked to respond to a more detailed “Request for Proposals” due at the end of the summer.

On May 18, I revealed the three U. of C. sites: near Hyde Park High School, at 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.; around 55th and King Drive and the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.

Other major bids are expected from Hawaii with a Honolulu site and Columbia University in New York. Last January, I identified the site Columbia University will propose: parcels on a 17-acre site near its Upper West Side Manhattan campus, bordered between Broadway and 12th Avenue and 125th to 132nd. Obama received his undergraduate degree in political science from Columbia in 1983 after attending the school for two years.

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