NORTH LAWNDALE — After thousands gathered in Hyde Park this week to discuss the fate of a South Side Obama Presidential Library proposal, West Side leaders also had a message for the Obama Foundation: "We're here."
A two-site proposal submitted by the University of Illinois at Chicago and the North Lawndale community is one of four finalists — and one of two Chicago proposals — being considered to host the Obama Presidential Library. More than 125 community members voiced their support for a West Side Obama library Thursday on the vacant site at Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue that the library could call home.
The goal of Thursday's rally was to remind Chicagoans that there are two Chicago bids competing to host the library, said Marcus Betts, a spokesman for the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee.
""We have a viable and compelling bid, and we think the most transformative bid," Betts said. "We're here, all is not lost if there might be some issues on the South Side."
In December, the Chicago Sun-Times quoted a source close that said the Obama Foundation had major problems with the University of Chicago bid. Another unnamed source told Crain's Chicago Business that the UIC-North Lawndale bid "was considered a long shot" and might not be salvageable.
But Paul Norrington, a founding member of the North Lawndale group, said that unnamed source must not know "the real" President Barack Obama. Norrington has pushed for a North Lawndale Obama library bid since 2009.
"If [the source] is conjecturing based on money and prestige and power, then they're not looking at the right Barack," Norrington said at the vacant North Lawndale site Thursday. "The Barack that most people voted for in 2008 wouldn't be seeking the prestige and elitism of the South Side, he would be looking for something exactly like this."
Norrington said the North Lawndale-UIC bid, a proposal crafted by the community with the help of UIC partners, "is exactly what the Obama Foundation is looking for."
"His library put in any economic benefit in any community — that's a given," Norrington said. "Yep, we can go to the South Side, or Hawaii or West Harlem, we can pour money into the community and people will be helped. That's great. But here on the West Side, when children walk down the street and look over and see the grand building, they will realize that it's through [this community's] efforts that the library is here. That's a completely different thing."
While a "mad dash and scramble" seems to be underway to make the South Side site work, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already committed to donating the city-owned land at the vacant North Lawndale site, said Valerie Leonard with the North Lawndale Alliance.
"We just want to make sure that the UIC bid does not fall off the radar," she said.
The group of North Lawndale leaders plan to host a community meeting on the proposed West Side Obama library site in the next two weeks, but an exact date has not yet been announced.
The 23-acre city-owned site on the West Side is part of UIC's two-site proposal that calls for a library to be located in North Lawndale and an institute on the UIC campus.
In December, the University of Illinois at Chicago submitted a comprehensive proposal to host the Obama Presidential Library. The proposal was submitted in conjunction with the Steans Family Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving North Lawndale.
The UIC proposal would also build over part of the Eisenhower Expy. as part of its bid to construct a two-site Obama Presidential Library on the city's West Side. A visitors center and proposed "O-4 Institute" for academic-civic collaboration would be hosted on the UIC campus at Harrison and Halsted streets.
UIC's proposal is one of four in the running to host the Obama Presidential Library.
The University of Chicago has proposed using 21 acres in Jackson Park for the library. A second option involves 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.
Thousands voiced their support for the South Side Obama Library proposal at a series of meetings in Hyde Park earlier this week. Obama's family home is in Kenwood on the South Side.
In addition to the two Chicago proposals in Obama's adult hometown, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii also submitted bids in December. Obama is a Columbia grad and grew up in Hawaii.
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