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U. of C. Seeks Community Support for Using Parks for Obama Library

By Sam Cholke | January 7, 2015 5:50pm
 The University of Chicago identified specific sites in Washington and Jackson parks Wednesday for the Obama library.
Obama Library Maps
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HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago is trying to drum up community support for its bid for the Barack Obama Presidential Library as the first public meetings approach next week.

As the university released maps showing portions of Jackson and Washington parks it offered for the library, Derek Douglas, the vice president of civic engagement for the university, called in community leaders to try to quell criticism against the use of parkland.

“They were saying New York is very viable, but that they’ve also realized they have to take a different angle with the community,” said Val Free, director of the Planning Coalition in South Shore.

Free and others at the meeting said they felt the university was genuinely afraid of losing the Obama library to bids from Columbia University in New York or the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Several people at the meeting said that Douglas said South Shore is no longer a candidate for the library and only the sites in Jackson and Washington parks remain on the table.

Cecilia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council, said she urged the university not to build in the park’s arboretum, which is the city’s first and boasts trees older than the planning of the park in 1880.

“They agreed that the only way anything would go any further in the parks is if the Obama family gave its OK,” Butler said.

Butler said the university showed maps, but did not provide any details about buildings or where they could be located.

Douglas declined to comment, and a university spokesman did not reply to requests for comment.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the university estimated less than 10 acres would be devoted to buildings at each site, an area approximately equivalent to a city block.

The added transparency from the university on Wednesday was praised by Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation, which is tasked with advising the president on a suitable location for the library.

“We think the University of Chicago’s decision to release this information shows that they are moving energetically to engage with the community and put forward the strongest proposal they can, just as UIC has also worked to address any concerns around their proposal,” Nesbitt said.

An anonymous source at the foundation had been critical of both universities’ bids in late December. The source said the University of Chicago’s proposal lacked a clear pathway for acquiring the property it was proposing and the change in leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago was disconcerting.

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