University of Chicago finally reveals Obama Presidential Library parks plan

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An illustration of potential development along Stony Island Avenue, near a proposed site for the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood. | Skidmore Owings & Merrill

WASHINGTON — The University of Chicago’s Obama presidential library and museum bid envisions using 22 acres in Washington Park and 21 acres in Jackson Park, all land owned by the Chicago Park District that needs to be transferred to the city or else the bid is in jeopardy.

The U. of C. in a posting on its website on Tuesday revealed details for the library and museum development for the first time. The disclosure comes in advance of public hearings being held next week, quickly scheduled by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to get the U. of C. bid back on track with the Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation

The school said the locations were selected in order to trigger economic revitalization in neighborhoods in need of help — with linked development in depressed areas a key requirement of the Chicago based Barack Obama Foundation.

For the Washington Park proposal, the school envisions using another 11 acres near the site, owned either by the school or the city.

The footprint of a “Barack Obama Presidential Center” in the Washington Park scenario would extend from the west portion of the park to the Garfield Boulevard CTA station, according to drawings the school also released.

The portion of the site in parkland would be bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the west, Ellsworth Drive on the east, Garfield Boulevard on the south, and 51st Street on the north. In addition to this section of the park, the proposed site would encompass a block of land across Martin Luther King Jr. Drive currently owned by the University of Chicago, the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Transit Authority.

The footprint of a Barack Obama Presidential Center in the Washington Park scenario would extend from the west portion of the park to the Garfield Boulevard CTA station, according to drawings the school released. | Skidmore Owings & Merrill

The Jackson Park site would place the presidential center not far from the Museum of Science and Industry, and in the park itself. The perimeters would be Stony Island Avenue on the west, Cornell Avenue on the east, 60th Street on the north, and 63rd Street on the South.

Susan Sher, the U. of C. executive in charge of the presidential library bid drive — and a former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama — said they envision the library as “a new jewel for the South Side park system, alongside public cultural institutions such as the Museum of Science and Industry and the DuSable Museum of African American History.”

The U. of C. was forced to drop a third location this week, the lakefront South Shore Cultural Center, when the mayor did not want to deal with a controversial site.

Last week, the foundation said there was a “major concern” that the U. of C. bid included proposed sites for the library on land the school did not own and did not have a plan to acquire. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped in this week and organized Park District hearings next week to get the ball rolling for City Council and Park District Board votes to get a long- term deal for the city to acquire the land.

The U. of C. is promising to replace any land it takes for the project, and for the first time is disclosing some suggestions of where the new greenspace could be located. In exchange for Washington Park land, new open space could be developed along Garfield Boulevard and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

For the Jackson Park location, the new open space could be created along 63rd Street.

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