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Obama Foundation weighs economic impacts in deciding presidential site

WASHINGTON — The Obama Foundation is conducting intensive economic development studies to help determine if the Obama Presidential Center should be located in Chicago’s Washington Park or Jackson Park, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

A spokesman for the Chicago-based foundation said it “has engaged a number of consultants to look at different aspects of the potential sites for the Obama Presidential Center.”

“As part of the due diligence, the economic impact analysis will assist the Foundation in their evaluation of opportunities for the Presidential Center to serve as a catalyst for revitalization of the entire area encompassing both Washington Park and Jackson Park neighborhoods,” the spokesman said.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle picked the South Side of Chicago to house their presidential center in May.

At the time, foundation chief Martin Nesbitt said it would take six to nine months to figure out whether the center will be in Jackson Park or Washington Park.

This is the first confirmation that the foundation is collecting data on its own to help the Obamas, the foundation board and advisers in the White House understand the economic benefits of each site.

Each park has positives and challenges when it comes to sparking linked economic development, a top priority of the foundation.

Champions of using Jackson Park point to its proximity to the lakefront and the Museum of Science and Industry, one of the top tourism draws in the city.

The community around Washington Park may present more land for economic development expected to be triggered by the Obama Center. While both parks were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Washington Park is seen as the more pristine example of his historic urban parks legacy.

The economic studies are separate from the competition the foundation will be launching soon to solicit proposals from architects to build the center on Chicago’s South Side.

The center will house a library, museum and offices for the foundation.