HYDE PARK — The decision to locate the Barack Obama presidential library in Chicago should be an "easy choice" for the president, so the city should do everything possible to help him come to that conclusion, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday.
At a media conference Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he was leading a full-scale push to get the library in Chicago. The comments were Emanuel's first since a source with the Obama Foundation raised questions on the use of public park land in the University of Chicago's bids.
"I said when it started we were going to do everything possible to make sure Chicago had it's best foot forward so it was an easy choice for the president and the first lady to pick the city of Chicago," Emanuel told reporters.
He added: "I'm going to play a very active role. ... I want to make sure that the city of Chicago, if there's any issues that we resolve those, so we are competitive against New York so this becomes an easy decision for the president to pick his home town to where his presidential library, in my view, belongs."
The Chicago Park District and the city announced Monday they will hold two meetings on building the library in Jackson Park or Washington Park, two sites proposed by the University of Chicago in its bid for the library, which also included the South Shore Cultural Center. The University of Illinois at Chicago has also bid for the library, as has Columbia University in New York.
"There are some questions that have been raised with the sites in Jackson, Washington Park. We are going to start the community process so we can address them, from both their concern and the city's objective. There's only one person that can address that, I'm going to play that role," the mayor said.
The meeting for Washington Park will be at noon Jan. 14 at the park field house, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Drive.
The park district will host a meeting about Jackson Park at 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
There are no meetings scheduled for the South Shore Cultural Center, but university and park district officials discussed the possibility of the library at an October meeting of the advisory council.
"Locating the Barack Obama Presidential Library on Chicago’s South Side offers a tremendous opportunity for Chicago and for South Side communities," the U. of C.'s Susan Sher said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to hearing further community input regarding the University of Chicago’s proposed sites in Washington or Jackson Park for the presidential library, where it will join other public cultural institutions and help to reinvigorate the South Side economy."
The Washington Park meeting comes just days after the university confirmed on Dec. 31 that it wanted to use a part of the park for its proposal for the library.
The confirmation turned Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council, against the proposal.
Butler said Monday that she supported the library when she though it was on 10 acres of property west of the park owned by the university and the city, but would not support the library being built in the park.
“Not until it comes from the Obamas' mouths that this is something they have to have will I even give it a second thought,” Butler said.
She said she was worried the university wants to use the park’s arboretum from 51st Street to Garfield Boulevard along King Drive, the portion of the park closest to the university’s property.
The arboretum was established in 2004 as the city’s first to protect a sand of Burr Oak trees that are at least 145 years old.
Butler said she planned to bring up the arboretum at the public meeting and at her first private meeting with university officials about the library on Wednesday.
The Jackson Park site, which many believe to be several baseball diamonds and a playground north of Hayes Drive along Stony Island, will get two days of public scrutiny.
The Jackson Park Advisory Council is scheduled to meet with the university about the library during its 7 p.m. meeting Jan. 12 at the park field house, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave. The city and park district meeting about Jackson Park is the following night.
No meetings were announced to discuss UIC's bid, which involved two sites in North Lawndale and near the school's campus in Little Italy and involves potentially building a greenspace above the Eisenhower Expressway.
Outgoing University of Illinois System President Robert Easter and incoming President-elect Timothy L. Killeen issued a statement saying that the new leadership at the school and in the state are "committed to UIC’s proposal, including identified properties and the academic program outlined in the proposal.
"The Obama Foundation should feel confident in the University leadership’s on-going support," the statement said.
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