HYDE PARK — Representatives from the Obama Foundation started meeting with South Siders this week and are already facing concerns that community groups will get drowned out as planning for Barack Obama’s presidential library moves forward.
Michael Strautmanis, vice president for civic engagement for the foundation charged with building the presidential library, moved into his new offices on Friday and has kept his promise to immediately start meeting with community groups.
Strautmanis has already met with groups near Washington and Jackson parks, the two sites Obama is choosing between as the home for his library.
On Tuesday, he came to Ald. Leslie Hairston’s monthly 5th Ward ward meeting, where he faced questions about the influence of the University of Chicago and the private donors who will finance the construction of the library.
He said his presence eight years before the library is expected to open in 2022 is a testament to the president’s dedication to ongoing community involvement in planning the library.
“If someone builds something in my backyard and doesn’t talk to me, that’s probably going to be wrong,” Strautmanis said.
He tried to assuage concerns that community groups would be a minor player among the partners, which include major donors and the University of Chicago.
“Some people believe this is run by the University of Chicago, it is not. Some people believe it is controlled by the University of Chicago, it is not,” Strautmanis said.
He said the university, which successfully wooed the library to the South Side over competing bids from over universities, is one of many partners.
Strautmanis said the University of Illinois at Chicago, which also bid for the library, will be a partner, along with other universities. He said the city government, nonprofits and community groups will all be partners in developing the presidential library.
He said the National Archives and Records Administration will also come in to administer the portions of the library.
“Part of what’s going to be coming in the library is a federal office,” Strautmanis said.
He said the Obama Foundation would look for community groups to help figure out the programming for one of the nation’s few urban presidential libraries.
“There will be things for your family to go and do in the presidential center,” Strautmanis said.
He said he had few details to share about who Obama was likely to select as the architect or the final site, but said he would share information when decisions were made.
“When there are timelines, we’ll come and share those with you,” Strautmanis said.
The reaction has been positive so far.
Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, said she thought Strautmanis was a good fit for the neighborhood.
She said he did a good job managing a recent meeting at the park that was at times contentious.
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