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Obama Library Coming To Woodlawn: 'Congratulations To Jackson Park'

By  Sam Cholke and Evan F.  Moore | July 27, 2016 12:48pm | Updated on July 29, 2016 11:49am

 Jackson Park has been selected as the site of the Obama Library.
Jackson Park has been selected as the site of the Obama Library.
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DNAinfo/Evan Moore

WOODLAWN — The Obama Presidential Library will be built in Jackson Park.

The Obamas have picked the Woodlawn park as the site for the library over Washington Park, a source familiar with the situation said.

The source said a formal announcement will be made in the "coming days."


Michelle Obama is in Chicago this week, following her widely-praised speech at the Democratic National Convention. White House officials said she has no planned public events.

Sources close to the Obama Foundation as far back as July 15 said chairman of the Obama Foundation board Marty Nesbitt was starting to quietly tell people the decision was likely to go towards Jackson Park.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said she has heard no official word on the Washington Park site in her ward, but said she believes the reports are true.

"Congratulations to Jackson Park," she said. But she said it wasn't a loss for Washington Park.

"Washington Park and its residents are resilient and we will continue the positive progress the neighborhood has shown over the years," Dowell said. 

She said the library will be a huge investment for the South Side and Washington Park will benefit in the long run.

An early rendering shows how the University of Chicago imagines Stony Island transformed by the library if it came to Jackson Park. Final renderings have not been released. [University of Chicago]

Officials who attended a July meeting with consultants hired by the Obama Foundation said the message coming out of the meeting was that both sites would require a lot of investment to keep tourists from turning around and going straight back downtown after visiting the library, but Washington Park required significantly more investment than Jackson Park.

Bets had long been on Washington Park as the final choice because the University of Chicago bought a number of properties nearby and has ramped up plans for more arts buildings and programming and there are numerous vacant lots nearby ripe for redevelopment.


But Jackson Park includes the Museum of Science and Industry and is closer to the lakefront and there is a considerable amount of property along 63rd Street owned by the Apostolic Church of God and the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation.

The site in Jackson Park proposed by the University of Chicago is 21 acres along Stony Island Avenue across from Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., and is currently used for a football field and track and a playground.

As word started to trickle down to the neighborhood where many just assumed it was going to Washington Park, reaction was mixed.

"I hope this brings jobs and tourism to an area the city doesn't pay attention to," said Alex Jameson of Hyde Park. "Maybe this will mean more attention and city services to the South Side like they do on the North Side as long as they don't hurt any of the things that makes Jackson Park great."

Others had hoped for Washington Park in part because they wanted improvements for the Washington Park neighborhood and wanted work to slow down in Jackson Park.

"There's a lot of old buildings over there that can be renovated," said Skip Hampton, a hairdresser at Salon 57 in Hyde Park. "I don't know what they are going to rape and pillage over there [Jackson Park]. How many trees will they remove? How much blacktop will they put down? The library could've been in Washington Park."

Jackson Park is already under a sizeable renovation as well with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Chicago Park District currently working on an $8.1 million habitat restoration effort and the nonprofit Project 120 is organizing donors to pay for a new visitors center and the installation of new art by Yoko Ono.

Project 120 has hired an expert on both parks' designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, to look at the parks. She determined that Washington Park would have been moved farther away from Olmsted's original vision with the construction of the library, while Jackson Park has already been significantly altered.

The site in Washington Park also included the city's only tree arboretum with trees so old that they predate the park's design in 1870. Altering the football field in Jackson Park was unlikely to face the same sort of pushback as the arboretum from parks advocates, though it is unclear whether that was a factor in the foundation's decision.

The foundation is expected to make an official annoucement in the coming days about a final site.

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