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Neighborhood Groups Line Up Behind U. of C. for Obama Library

By Ted Cox | June 13, 2014 8:00pm | Updated on June 16, 2014 8:22am
 The University of Chicago Midway, with Washington Park in the foreground.
The University of Chicago Midway, with Washington Park in the foreground.
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University of Chicago

HYDE PARK — An array of neighborhood groups from Woodlawn, Washington Park and across the "midsection" of the city lined up Friday behind the University of Chicago's bid for the Barack Obama presidential library.

The groups and institutions united behind the university's response to a Request for Qualifications to be submitted Monday, but without settling on a specific site.

"We're not going to talk about all the specifics of our response to the RFQ, such as potential sites," said university spokesman Steve Kloehn. "Today we are focusing on ideas for programming, and the community representatives who are interested in pursuing partnerships with the library."

 President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will ultimately decide where his library is located.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, will ultimately decide where his library is located.
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DNAinfo/Jean Lachat

Susan Sher, senior adviser to University President Robert Zimmer, said selecting a site was "premature" and that it "totally depends on what the Obamas are interested in," both the president and Michelle Obama, who are expected to make the final selection from proposals submitted to the Barack Obama Foundation.

Yet she added that, in any case, it presented a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" for investment in Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, with an estimated $600 million cash infusion for the building yielding 3,300 construction jobs and 1,900 permanent jobs, in addition to attracting new commercial businesses and restaurants and, most likely, at least one hotel to the area.

Sher said the estimated economic impact of the Bill Clinton Presidential Library on Little Rock, Arkansas, was $2 billion to $3 billion.

In a media conference call organized Friday by the university, several local groups and institutions expressed their eagerness to gain a piece of that pie — and offer something unique to the university's proposal.

Byron Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God and chairman of the Network of Woodlawn, said the library could also serve "the legacy of the communities that are around the university" and provide "an extension of all the services that are already there," from the DuSable Museum through the university to the Museum of Science and Industry.

"Anywhere in this midsection I would support," Brazier added.

Kamau Murray, president of the XS Tennis and Education Foundation, said it was the "proximity" of vital institutions and organizations in Hyde Park and the surrounding area that could make it the most popular and accessible presidential library if it were constructed there.

David Mosena, president of the Museum of Science and Industry, promised "a very powerful collaboration" with the library, perhaps in sharing school field trips and emphasizing "how public policy about science is shaped by the president and shapes the future."

Even the Chicago Botanic Garden, based in suburban Glencoe but with projects throughout the city, offered to get involved with efforts to "reflect the first lady's White House garden" outside the museum, in ways both ornamental and functional with plants and produce.

"The children are the big winners here, and the children are the focus of our mission," said James Keane, president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Chicago.

"We already have a pool of young people who are motivated and ready to become engaged," said Torrey Barrett, executive director of Washington Park's KLEO Community Family Life Center. He proposed the library also emphasize a theater to "provide the history of the president and his journey," but also to "run programming" and "showcase talent," so that kids "also go there to participate."

Some community groups have opposed placement of the library in the Hyde Park area, saying the neighborhood is more in need of a trauma center. Yet Sher insisted general community support was "overwhelming."

Derek Douglas, the university's vice president for civic engagement, said the groups were a "central feature" of its proposal and "helped shape" it.

The university announced its intention to pursue the library in January. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has promised to throw the city's weight behind a single "very competitive" proposal, but has not yet determined which of several ideas to back. The university is near the Obamas' home in Kenwood, but Pullman has pushed its place in Obama's personal history as the place he started as a community organizer.

The former U.S. Steel South Works has been mentioned as a possible site, as has the former Michael Reese Hospital. Chicago State University has also announced it will field a bid, as has the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Columbia University in New York City, Obama's alma mater, is also in play, as is his native state, Hawaii.

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