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Obama library coming to Chicago

WASHINGTON — As first reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Obama library, museum and presidential center will be located on Chicago’s South Side, with the University of Chicago bid beating out the competition for the massive project.

The Sun-Times has reported in several stories since April 14 that the Obama development was coming to the city. The official announcement will be made in Chicago by the Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation in about two weeks, the Sun-Times has confirmed with several sources with direct knowledge of the rollout.

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Though the decision to ratify the foundation recommendation was made by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle, the president is not expected to attend the announcement, for which planning has already begun, the Sun-Times was told by a source.

As the Sun-Times reported on April 14, the foundation, led by Obama friend Marty Nesbitt, will not announce until later this year whether the Obama complex will be located in Washington Park or Jackson Park. The parks are near the University of Chicago’s main Hyde Park campus.

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The U. of C. bid emphasized partnerships with elementary, high school and other area universities — and support from the surrounding South Side communities.

The university also included in its bid a strategy to optimize the related tourism and economic impact to “assist in the development of this historic place,” according to the bid document.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his City Hall team has been working for months with the foundation to satisfy its requests for the project. Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, made landing the library a priority.

For the city of Chicago, the Obama development is many things: Not only the permanent legacy of a two-term South Side president, but what is expected to be an enormous economic boost for the South Side. Recently in Washington, Emanuel described the economic benefit of the Obama project as an “annuity.”

The latest item on the punch list for the foundation was for the Illinois General Assembly to pass a measure — which it did last week — to make it harder to legally challenge building the Obama complex on Chicago Park District land. Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has raised no public objection to the legislation, still has to sign the bill.

The U. of C. beat out proposals for the main Obama development submitted by Columbia University in New York; the University of Hawaii in Honolulu; and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

However, Hawaii, Obama’s native state, will be getting a smaller Obama project to be constructed under the auspices of the foundation and run in partnership with the facility in Chicago. Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half-sister, is a foundation board member and Hawaii resident.

The U. of C. started the bidding process as a front-runner, but got in a serious jam at the end of last year when the foundation raised serious concerns because the sites proposed by the school were on Chicago Park District land it did not own or control.

After getting the scare, the University of Chicago went public with its plans and the Chicago Park District and City Council within weeks passed measures putting either Washington Park or Jackson Park — whichever is selected — under city control.

The U. of C. played a crucial role in the adult lives of the president and first lady. They both worked at the Hyde Park campus — she ended up at the medical center, he at the law school. Their kids went to the lab school. Their closest personal friends and the presidents’ major benefactors are connected to the university. The U. of C. bid drive was led by Susan Sher, a former chief of staff to Michelle Obama.

Within the White House, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett is a former U. of C. trustee.

But the school took nothing for granted, especially in trying to demonstrate that there was enormous community support on the South Side for the project.

Groundbreaking for the project will not take place until after Obama leaves office.