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Where Would U. of C. Put an Obama Library? South Siders Think They Know

By Sam Cholke | September 18, 2014 7:38am | Updated on September 19, 2014 8:44am
 The University of Chicago is rumored to be considering three sites on the South Side for its bid for the Obama library.
Obama Library Locations
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HYDE PARK — As the competition progresses for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, South Siders are increasingly convinced the University of Chicago wants to build it in Washington Park.

“Based on my conversations with the university, I think it is their preferred site,” said Torrey Barrett, director of the KLEO Center at 119 E. Garfield Blvd., who helped sell the university’s first-round pitch to the Obama Foundation in June. “I think this is a prime location for it to happen.”

A University of Chicago site list leaked in May included a location near Garfield Boulevard and Martin Luther King Drive. The list also included an area of Jackson Park across from Hyde Park High School at Cornell Avenue and Hayes Drive and the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Drive.

A spokesman for the university said the final proposal due Dec. 11 will include three sites, but would neither confirm nor deny the locations in Jackson Park, at the cultural center or a large swathe of vacant land owned by the university west of Washington Park on Garfield Boulevard.

Starting in 2008, the university quietly started buying property in Washington Park. It now owns a 5½-acre square of vacant land next to the Garfield Boulevard Green Line stop with a view of Washington Park and the university’s Center for Care and Discovery hospital.

“I think the impact on the neighborhood would be tremendous,” Barrett said of possible development in the struggling neighborhood spurred by the library. “I can see it having more of South Loop feeling to it — I think this is a prime location for it to happen.”

Hyde Parkers are also increasingly convinced the library will go in next to Washington Park and not in Jackson Park, which has a long history of advocates fiercely defending the site of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

“Park advocates would certainly speak up,” said Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council. “It just seems like a fight that would not be worth fighting.”

Friends of the Parks said in June it would sue if the library took land from the Park District. On Wednesday, President Cassandra Francis urged the University of Chicago not to consider park land when so much space close to the rumored Jackson Park site was vacant and undeveloped.

There are few large swathes of open land in neighboring Woodlawn, except a stretch of 63rd Street from Woodlawn to Ingleside Avenue. The location is across from the University of Chicago’s Woodlawn Charter School and close to the Cottage Grove Green Line stop and 63rd Street Metra stop, but the university does not own any of the property.

South Shore Cultural Center advocates hoped the rumor was true that they were being considered, but suspected they were at the end of the list because the park offered the smallest piece of land.

“I don’t know if we have a chance,” said Edie Moore, president of the cultural center’s advisory committee.

She said the only land not currently used by the golf course or its landmark clubhouse is a half-acre butterfly and bird sanctuary that juts out into the lake.

The cultural center has the advantage of being on the lake and possibly resonating with the Obamas as the site of their 1992 wedding reception, but is far from the university and the major transportation routes the other sites offer.

The university will turn in its proposal on Dec. 11 along with proposals from the University of Illinois at Chicago, which is proposing three sites on the West Side, and Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii.

The Obama Foundation, headed by Kenwood resident Martin Nesbitt, will make a recommendation in early 2015 to the president, who will make the final decision.

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