WOODLAWN — University of Chicago officials defended including park land in their proposed sites for the Barack Obama Presidential Library on Monday night.
At a Jackson Park Advisory Council meeting Monday night, university officials said there was no way they could meet the demands of the Obama Foundation without including park land in the proposal.
Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement at the university, said the university felt it needed to find 25 acres that would benefit a low-income neighborhood on the South Side while not displacing large numbers of people.
“You can’t find 20 to 25 acres in these neighborhoods that isn’t spoken for and that wouldn’t require displacement,” Douglas said.
He said the university felt it was important to offer the Obama Foundation the option of building a sprawling campus like the Bill Clinton or George W. Bush libraries to be competitive with bids from the University of Illinois at Chicago and Columbia University in New York.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel echoed that position Tuesday in a news conference at Von Steuben High School, calling it "a unique opportunity" in that "presidential libraries come only once."
"It's a unique investment wherever they pick, and they've gotta pick the City of Chicago," Emanuel said. "I want this to be an easy decision for President Obama and the first lady."
The university has proposed putting the library in a 21-acre section of Jackson Park between 60th and 63rd streets on Stony Island Avenue. The other option presented was a parcel owned by the university, the city and the Chicago Transit Authority between Prairie Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive on Garfield Boulevard, with an additional 22 acres of Washington Park
The inclusion of park land in the proposal has ruffled feathers among supporters who want the library on the South Side, but don’t want to give up land in either of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks to get it.
“Parks are not land banks,” said Stephanie Franklin, president of the Nichols Park Advisory Council. “They’re not waiting to be developed, they are developed, they are parks.”
The university also faced criticism for not putting up all of its own property in the Washington Park neighborhood for the library.
“We didn’t propose displacing ourselves either,” Douglas said.
After the meeting he said the university did not offer the Obama Foundation nine properties along the south side of Garfield Boulevard from Martin Luther King Drive to the Green Line tracks because it has plans to develop the property.
Emanuel similarly dismissed thoughts of the university swapping land "acre for acre" for the museum tract, warning of "getting ahead of yourself." He said, "They haven't made any decision yet," adding there was ample time to address that in the community process once one of those sites is formally selected by the Obama Foundation.
Others also came to the university’s defense of offering park land, citing the exceptional opportunity a presidential library presents.
“I think it has to be a very high, high bar for putting things in the park that aren’t there now, and I think this reaches that bar,” said Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, but who was speaking as a Woodlawn resident Monday night.
Randall, a former region manager for the Chicago Park District, said the library would bring much-needed attention and resources to the parks.
Douglas pointed out that there were no proposals to build any structures in a park, but the option was being provided to the Obama Foundation, which will recommend a site for the library to the president and his wife, Michelle Obama.
“You know the Obamas, they’re not going to do something that cannibalizes the parks,” Douglas said.
Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, said the body would not take an official position because its membership was divided on the issue.
She said she personally believes the library should go in Jackson Park over Washington Park.
"It shouldn't go in Washington Park because any traffic jam will kill the ER," McCurry said of the connection along Garfield Boulevard between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the emergency room at the University of Chicago's hospital.
The city holds its first hearings on using park land for the Obama library at 6 p.m. Tuesday night at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: