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South Siders Come Out En Masse to Support Obama Library

By Sam Cholke | January 13, 2015 7:48pm | Updated on January 13, 2015 11:02pm
 The crowd at a Park District hearing was overwhelmingly supportive of the Obama library locating on the South Side, but was split over using parkland. Rev. Leon Finney Jr. of the Woodlawn Organization riled up a crowd nearly unanimous in putting the library on the South Side.
The crowd at a Park District hearing was overwhelmingly supportive of the Obama library locating on the South Side, but was split over using parkland. Rev. Leon Finney Jr. of the Woodlawn Organization riled up a crowd nearly unanimous in putting the library on the South Side.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WOODLAWN — Hyde Park High School was packed Tuesday night with people overwhelmingly supportive of bringing the Barack Obama Presidential Library to the South Side — and many said they were willing to accept putting a building on public parkland if there was no other option.

The school auditorium was at more than capacity with many being shepherded into overflow rooms by the time the meeting kicked off at 6 p.m. at the high school at 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

“Given the 1,000 acres between Washington Park, Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, 20 acres does not seem like a lot of land to be taken away,” said Rev. Byron Brazier, who chartered four buses to bring members of his congregation from Apostolic Church of God, 6320 S. Dorchester Ave.

The Park District Board of Commissioners called the meeting to discuss the option of putting the Obama library in Jackson or Washington park, but officials said at this point there had been no official proposal to transfer Park District property to the city or the Obama Foundation.

“There is no issue before the Park District board upon which it is voting,” said Avis Lavelle, vice president of the board. “At some point we may be asked to vote, but it is not today.”

The university has proposed using 21 acres in Jackson Park for the library. A second option, largely favored by those at the meeting, was using 10 acres of university, city and Chicago Transit Authority land in the Washington Park neighborhood along with 22 acres of the neighborhood's namesake park.

Many were divided over whether the library should be located in either park.

"The right place for this museum is not in the parks," said Graham Grady, a South Side lawyer who has helped many large real estate developers navigate City Hall.

Grady suggested giving the university's property in the Washington Park neighborhood to the Park District, instead of transferring parkland to the city, as many have discussed.

“It should be on new parkland, not existing parkland,” Grady said.

Jerry Adelmann, president of Open Lands, said the group supported including the parks, but wanted any building on parkland minimized as much as possible.

"Parkland used for the library at either location should not be transferred to the city," Addelmann said

Phil Enquist, a partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, estimated the building would take up about three acres.

The meeting got a rowdy start when the Rev. Leon Finney Jr. of the Woodlawn Organization riled up the crowd in support of choosing the South Side over bids from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York or the University of Hawaii.

The tone then sharply turned as four bus loads of supporters from Apostolic Church of God filed out after Finney finished speaking and political candidates for mayor and alderman tried to stake a claim in the debate over using parkland.

"This proposal was created behind closed doors under a veil of secrecy with no formal input from either park advocates or the public," mayoral candidate Jesus "Chuy" Garcia said. "Now, the mayor is collaborating with its proponents to push this land grab — just as he supports a land grab for his friend George Lucas on Chicago’s public lakefront."

Mayoral candidate Bob Fioretti said the hearing was political theater meant to distract from how the university's bid was dividing the neighborhood.

“A mayor with a better sense of priorities and respect for his constituents would be leading the way on a comprehensive look at how Hyde Park could incorporate the Obama museum, a badly needed trauma center and other community priorities without seizing public land," Fioretti said.

University officials have pointed out that no buildings have been proposed for the parks and the decision over where to site the library and where to build the physical building will ultimately be up to the Obama family. They said the meeting showed the depth of public support for bringing the museum to the area.

"The overwhelming turnout and passion from hundreds of library bid supporters at Tuesday's hearing demonstrate that the people who live and work here want the Obama Presidential Library brought home to Chicago's South Side," said Susan Sher, a consultant leading the university's bid for the library. "The hearing also helped to explain why these proposed sites are not merely two among many alternatives — they are the best options for the library, for the future of parks and for the people of Chicago."

No one spoke against the library coming to Chicago and only one man advocated putting it on the West Side over the South Side.

Despite the positive response to the library, representatives from the university were booed by the audience when they started their presentation.

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