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Obama Library on Chicago's South Side Could Be Open By 2020

By  Sam Cholke and Josh McGhee | May 12, 2015 5:38am | Updated on May 12, 2015 2:09pm

HYDE PARK — The Obama presidential library will open on the South Side "sometime in 2020 or 21," and the decision on which of the two competing locations will be chosen is expected sometime in the next 6-9 months, Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation, said Tuesday afternoon.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama earlier in the day officially announced that the library will be coming to the South Side.

Nesbitt said at a press conference at the Gary Comer Youth Center that the next step is to thoroughly research the more than 20 acres proposed by the University of Chicago at Jackson and Washington parks and then chose the final site.

"There's some physical due diligence that needs to be done on the land," Nesbitt said.

He said the Obama foundation, presidential library and museum and Obama's offices would all be headquartered at whichever site is chosen.

"I"m sure he'll be here working," Nesbitt said of Obama.

In a video address on YouTube, the Obamas said the Obama Foundation would partner with the University of Chicago to build the library at one of the two locations proposed by the university — either Jackson Park or Washington Park.


“All the strands of my life came together and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago,” Barack Obama said. “That’s where I was able to apply that early idealism to try to work in communities in public service. That’s where I met my wife. That’s where my children were born.”

Nesbitt said that the community support on the South Side as well as the rich history and strong economic development potential persuaded the Obamas the South Side was the right choice.

“I’m thrilled to be able to put this resource in the heart of the neighborhood that means the world to me,” Michelle Obama said. “Every value, every memory, every important relationship to me exists in Chicago. I consider myself a South Sider.”

During the noon media conference on the South Side, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the library a "groundbreaking" project for the city and thanked the University of Chicago and South Side supporters for making it happen.

"The reason the library is coming to the city of Chicago is we came together, not as different communities, but as one city with a purpose," he said.

"This day has been a long time coming. Today we can finally say the words everyone has been wanting to say, 'The Obama Presidential Library is coming home to the city of Chicago,'" Emanuel said.

University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer said the library would create major opportunities on the South Side.

“We believe opening the Presidential Center will mark a watershed moment for the South Side and the city, serving as a catalyst for economic and cultural opportunities as well as community programming,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer said as "the first truly urban presidential library" the Obama library "will be unlike any center that has come before it" and "a magnet for those from around the world."

Carol Adams, of the University of Chicago Community Advisory Board, said bringing the library to Chicago's South Side is a "bold decision" that will be "transformational" to either Washington Park or Jackson Park.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) said the economic impact of the library on the surrounding neighborhoods will be significant.

"It means we'll have years of economic investment from a foundation of a young presidential family," Cochran said. It'll positively impact these neighborhoods and improve the quality of life in those communities."

Cochran said the library could directly lead to 40 new businesses in the surrounding areas.

"Those businesses will need employees — full-time employees," he said

Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation, said Tuesday the Obama Presidential enter could be open as early as 2020. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

Though the U. of C. beat out the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii, the Obama Foundation said it would partner with all the institutions on some level.

“We were impressed by the quality of each proposal and, as a result, we plan to continue working with each institution to incorporate elements of their proposals into the future Obama Presidential Center,” Nesbitt said.

Susan Sher, who coordinated the University of Chicago's proposal, said the univeristy will be the go-to for the foundation as the Obamas work out the ongoing mission for the foundation,  look for community partners, start planning for the library itself.

Nesbitt said the foundation would be enlisting community leaders from across the country to make the library a vibrant place, but now the focus is on Chicago.

Nesbitt said the library will continue the president's history of using "cutting-edge technology and grassroots organizing to engage the next generation of leaders."

He called Obama's commitment to the city "remarkable," and cited the "overwhelming support" from the city as key in Chicago landing the library.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the presence of the Obama library on the South Side will serve as an example to young people that "it's not about being born with a silver spoon in your mouth."

"I think it means for every little boy and little girl who live in Chicago and the country, they can see that someone from modest means and humble beginnings rose to be president, and that they can do that too by getting involved in their community."

The foundation will open offices on the South Side by the end of the year.

The next step is to find an architect and then decide on a location, either 21 acres in Jackson Park or 22 acres along the western edge of Washington Park that would link up with 10 acres of property in the Washington Park neighborhood owned by the university, city and Chicago Transit Authority.

Nesbitt said he expects the location to be chosen within the next six to nine months, and said the facility will likely be "sometime in 2020 or '21."

"We've done a lot of work but there is a lot more to do," he said.

The foundation will pay for all the construction of the library through donations, but the National Records and Archives Administration will run the library after it is open, according to Nesbitt.

The library is expected to create 3,300 construction jobs and 1,900 permanent new jobs in retail, dining and other businesses, with a $220 million impact on Chicago, according to estimates by the university.

“We live in one of the greatest cities in the world. It is complex, dynamic, storied and full of potential — a perfect place for this movement we've built together over the past eight years to begin its next chapter,” said David Axelrod, who himself partnered with the U. of C. after leaving the White House to start the Institute of Politics.

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