HYDE PARK — Nearly 40 local civic and community leaders came out in favor of using park land for the Barack Obama Presidential Library Thursday as national groups and local parks preservationists urged caution.
The National Association for Olmsted Parks joined Friends of the Parks and other groups in urging the University of Chicago to avoid putting the library in either Jackson or Washington parks, both designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
“This is not supportive of the parks’ purpose, but replaces the parks’ purpose,” said Ethan Carr, the incoming chairman of the board at the National Association for Olmsted Parks.
The University of Chicago is proposing two sites for the library, 21 acres in Jackson Park between 60th and 63rd streets on Stony Island Avenue and 22 acres in Washington Park from 51st Street to Garfield Boulevard along Martin Luther King Drive that abuts property owned by the university and the city between King Drive and the Garfield Green Line stop.
As national groups urged caution, local aldermen said they were prepared to make sites for the library available in a timely manner.
“The bid enjoys enormous support from civic leaders, community organizations and residents,” wrote aldermen Pat Dowell (3rd), Will Burns (4th), Leslie Hairston (5th) and Willie Cochran (20th).
The aldermen said they support the university’s commitment to be “park positive.”
Thirty-eight community leaders also signed a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel in support of “prompt steps to resolve the issue of parkland.”
“We support a plan that honors the distinctive character of our parks while maintaining and enhancing the park space available to the public — a key element of the South Side’s bid for the library,” the letter says. “If making parkland available on these terms will help bring the library to the South Side, you have our strong support to get it done.”
Carr and other preservation groups said that the proposal is now starting to draw increased scrutiny from preservationists, landscape architects and historians across the country interested in Olmsted.
“This is retrograde thinking, this is not the kind of thinking you expect from Chicago,” said Charles Birnbaum, founder and president of the Cultural Landscape Foundation that promotes landscape architecture.
The university did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Susan Sher, who is advising the university on its bid, has said there is a long tradition of museums in parks and the university viewed the library as an opportunity to restore an Olmsted park.
The mayor's office said it was currently consulting with experts on the use of parkland.
The city is holding two meetings on using parkland for the Obama library next week. A meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave. and a second meeting at noon on Wednesday at the park’s field house, 5531 S. Martin Luther King Drive.
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