Emanuel to ask aldermen to OK Obama library in a city park

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Jackson Park is one of two sites the University of Chicago is proposing for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. | Photo by Jennifer T. Lacey

WASHINGTON — Moving quickly to save the University of Chicago bid, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will ask the City Council on Wednesday to approve an ordinance to allow the Obama library and museum to be built in a city park, a source told the Chicago Sun-Times.

There is a sense of urgency because the Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation wants to pick a host university by the end of March.

The action comes in the wake of the foundation raising “major concerns” about the bids by the U. of C. and University of Illinois at Chicago at the end of last year.

The foundation jolted the U. of C. by raising the prospect that the lack of a plan to acquire rights to a site jeopardized its bid. The issue at the UIC was resolved once new leaders pledged to deliver on the bid if the West Side school was selected.

The city has a “robust commitment” to bringing the Obama development to Chicago at either site, the proposed ordinance says.

If the U. of C. wins the project, it may take several more months to the “fall or winter of 2015” to determine whether the site would be at Washington Park or Jackson Park, according to the ordinance Emanuel will introduce on Wednesday.

The proposed ordinance takes into account concerns raised at two hearings last week, where park preservationists said city park land should not be touched and U. of C. allies said the Obama project was a historic opportunity for a much needed economic boost for the South Side.

Emanuel’s ordinance has two provisions aimed at brokering an accord for the rights to about 20 acres in Jackson or Washington park for a library, museum and probably an academic institute.

The measure says it is “expected that the foundation” would use about 5 acres for the “presidential center” with the rest of the land to “remain landscaped open space.”

Emanuel committed to “assembling a group of leaders from open space and community groups to identify nearby land that can be converted to green space to replace the green space lost” to the Obama development, as well as to “look for opportunities to reinvest and restore Olmstead parks.”

The two parks were designed by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

The ordinance lays out how the foundation, city and Chicago Park District relationship would work. The Chicago Park District board will take up similar land transfer agreements at a Feb. 11 meeting.

Under the proposed ordinance, the Park District would convey the park sites to the city for $1. The park that is not selected would revert back to the Park District.

Eventually, under the ordinance, the city and foundation would enter into a long-term ground lease.

Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii are the other two finalists.

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