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Chicago State University Wants Obama's Presidential Library

By Wendell Hutson | May 28, 2013 7:30am | Updated on May 28, 2013 8:32am
 President Obama's library won't be built until the end of his second term.
President Barack Obama's presidential library has sparked a bidding war in the city.
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CHATHAM — Chicago State University is the latest local institution to express an interest in becoming the home of President Barack Obama's presidential library, which wouldn't be built until after he leaves office in 2016.

The only public, four-year university on Chicago's South Side recently formed an exploratory committee to study the best way to lobby for the library, said the school's president, Wayne Watson.

"The committee is chaired by [retired state] Sen. Emil Jones Jr. and its members consist of faculty and community members," Watson said. "We have 123 acres of land, so space is not a problem for us. It is our intent to sway the president to have his library on campus or in the Pullman neighborhood represented by Ald. Anthony Beale."

Beale (9th), whose ward does not include Chicago State, was unavailable for comment.

The university is in Ald. Roderick Sawyer's 6th Ward. Sawyer said he would love to see a presidential library in his ward, but would settle for "having it anywhere on the South Side."

Watson added that having the library on the Far South Side would encourage more economic development and boost tourism for the area.

"When tourists come to Chicago, how often do they travel to the Far South Side of Chicago? People say there's nothing out this way worth seeing, but I disagree," Watson said. "There is plenty to see on the Far South Side, and having a presidential library on this side of town would be an added attraction."

Since 2011, community activists in Bronzeville have been discussing redevelopment ideas for the former Michael Reese Hospital site, 2929 S. Ellis Ave., and Obama's library topped the list of suggestions.

"This is where President Obama got his start as a community organizer, and this is where his library should be," said Harold Lucas, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Black Metropolis Convention & Tourism Council. "Bronzeville is the ideal place for President Obama's library. It is rich in black history, as well as jazz and blues music, and close to his home in Kenwood."

The University of Chicago also reportedly is interested in having the library built on its Hyde Park campus. First lady Michelle Obama worked at the University of Chicago Medical Center in 2007, and their two daughters attended the University of Chicago Lab Schools.

William Harms, a spokesman for the U. of C., said the university would welcome the library if Obama chose to locate it there.

Still, Lucas said he is not worried about Chicago State or the U. of C. bidding for the library "because neither one has the community backing like Bronzeville."

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), whose ward includes Bronzeville, supports a presidential library in her ward, while Ald. Will Burns (4th), whose ward includes the Michael Reese site, said he is open to the idea but has not yet decided which redevelopment plan to support for the 37-acre site.

The hospital campus closed in 2008 and was later bought by the city for $85 million. Had the city won its bid for 2016 Olympics, the campus would have been redeveloped into a temporary residential complex for athletes.

The president's home state of Hawaii also is angling to host the library.

According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, there are 13 presidential libraries. The libraries preserve and make available presidential papers, records, collections and other historical materials.

Watson said that Bronzeville and the U. of C. are good locations for a presidential library but contended the Far South Side would be better.

"In the end, the president will decide where he wants his library located," Watson said. "I'm just hoping he chooses Chicago, where his roots run deep."