HYDE PARK — The Obama Foundation officially set-up shop in Hyde Park on Friday and is setting up channels to get neighbors’ concerns to President Barack Obama as he decides on the details of his presidential library.
On Friday, the seven staffers of the foundation charged with building the presidential library were busy unpacking boxes on the top floor of the University of Chicago’s office tower at 5235 S. Harper Court.
Michael Strautmanis, vice president for civic engagement for the foundation, hadn’t even set up his computer yet and was already talking about figuring out what groups in the neighborhood the foundation needed to be meeting with as the library plans go forward.
He said he's a Chicago guy, born in South Shore, raised in Uptown and now lives in Oak Park.
Strautmanis, who has worked for and been close to the Obamas for 20 years, said South Siders should expect to see him at park advisory council, block club and other neighborhood meetings.
“My job is to make sure there is a dialogue, a two-way conversation with all of our partners,” Strautmanis said during an interview in the mostly bare new office. “I want to meet with everyone.”
He said South Siders should expect organized meetings about plans for the library down the line, but he said he’s in the process now of figuring out who to talk to and what the most important issues are.
“I think it’s going to be important for me to listen more than talk,” Strautmanis said.
He said the president is interested in how his decisions about the library will affect the South Side, particularly around the two sites being considered in Jackson and Washington parks.
“He’s interested in understanding what I’m hearing an how that impacts all the decisions we’re making,” Strautmanis said.
The Obamas are in the process of meeting with seven architects and are expected to decide on the site after an architect is selected.
In December, the foundation released a list of architects being considered that included Adjaye Associates of London, England; Diller Scofidio and Renfro of New York City; John Ronan Architects of Chicago; Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genova, Italy; SHoP Architects of New York City; Snøhetta, New York City; and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of New York City.
Strautmanis said he wasn’t aware of how far along the president was in the process of selecting an architect.
There were few clues about the library at the offices, where most of the foundation’s files remained hidden inside large black moving boxes.
Large maps of Jackson and Washington parks were on the walls and leaning against desks with the two potential sites outlined and every surrounding property color-coded based on who owned the property and whether it was vacant or currently being used.
Strautmanis said he wasn’t able to explain six numbered stars on the maps marked “activity list.” Most appeared to mark vacant properties that were either for sale or under-used by the owner.
The bookshelves were just starting to fill up with a history of the High Line park in New York City and books from landscape architect Maya Lin and architects Rafael Viñoly and Brad Cloepfil, among others.
Strautmanis said neighbors should expect to see him and other people from the foundation out in the community a lot more after they’re settled into their new offices.
Before Friday, the foundation was working out the offices of Chairman Martin Nesbitt’s Vistria Group, 300 E. Randolph St.
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