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Second public hearing on Obama library set for Wednesday after hundreds pack first meeting

A second public hearing on a University of Chicago plan to use public park land for the site of the Obama Presidential Library is set for noon Wednesday the day after hundreds of people packed a raucous hearing on the issue at a South Side auditorium.

Before the first meeting Tuesday night even started at Hyde Park Academy High School,  charter buses deposited attendees while TV cameras zoomed on a group of activists protesting the university’s decision not to open a level-one hospital trauma center.

Mayoral candidates — including Ald. Bob Fioretti, businessman Willie Wilson and County Commissioner Jesus  “Chuy” Garcia — mingled with the crowd. Absent was Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is working to allow the university to build in the park.

LIVE UPDATES: Second meeting on Barack Obama Presidential Library

Once everything was underway, Park District Vice President Avis LaVelle repeatedly had to appeal for calm. The first portion of the meeting was stacked mostly with people in favor of the proposal.

“It’s time to say ‘yes’ to the plan to build the Obama library . . . on the South Side,” the Rev. Leon Finney Jr.  shouted with oratorical flourish that brought thunderous applause. “It’s time to vote ‘Yes’ to those who will spend money in our neighborhoods and provide new business opportunities for our black women and our black men.”

Later, others cautioned that the choice between using parkland or risk having no library at all, was a suggestion put forth to push through the university’s plan.

“Let’s not accept the argument that the Obama Presidential Library has to be in a park on the South Side or we lose it,” said Lauren Moltz, who is chair of the board for Friends of the Park.  The parks “are neither the City of Chicago’s, the Chicago Park District, or the University of Chicago’s to carve up.”

The U. of C. has been considered the front-runner for the library’s location, with New York’s Columbia University fast on its heels. The University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Hawaii also are contenders.

The U. of C., which had been mum on many specifics, recently acknowledged for the first time that it hoped to use parkland that it does not own and did not have a clear path to obtaining. That’s despite the university owning large swaths of property in the surrounding area. That spurred Emanuel to public action.

The university plan, which would use roughly 20 acres at either Jackson or Washington parks, will need the approval of the Chicago Park District and the City Council. But the final decision will be made by the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

Derek Douglas, the university’s vice president of civic engagement, told the crowd that park land was needed because the university did not own a big enough solid block of land to build upon.

“There is not a 20 to 30 acres parcel of contiguous land to house the campus without displacing people,” Douglas said.

But architect John Vinci said the university’s claims were a “sham.”

“What are they going to do when they say they are going to build hotels and stores?” Vinci asked. The end result will still likely lead to neighborhood residents displaced through eminent domain, he said:  “They are going to condemn your buildings.”

The second meeting will be held noon Wednesday at the Washington Park Field House, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Dr.