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Why Jackson Park For Obama Library? It Will Draw More Tourists, Board Says

By Sam Cholke | August 3, 2016 11:51am | Updated on August 5, 2016 11:40am
 Marty Nesbitt (center), chairman of the Obama Foundation board, appears at Jackson Park Wednesday to explain why the Obama Presidential Library will be built there.
Marty Nesbitt (center), chairman of the Obama Foundation board, appears at Jackson Park Wednesday to explain why the Obama Presidential Library will be built there.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

JACKSON PARK — Obama Foundation officials for the first time on Wednesday answered questions about why Jackson Park was chosen over Washington Park for Barack Obama's presidential library.

The Obama Foundation announced the library would be built in Jackson Park on Friday.

"We just thought it will attract visitors at a national level and at a global level," said Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the board of directors of the Obama Foundation. "Locating it here is the best way to benefit the South Side in total."

He said the planning process will include coming up with ideas to make sure Washington Park still benefits from the library and finding ways to make sure library visitors stay in the area to take advantage of the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Museum of African American history and other institutions.


Nesbitt said the foundation is developing programming now and finalizing the team around Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the New York firm that will design the library.

The foundation envisions Jackson and Washington parks as one large park connected by the Midway Plaisance, and there is a responsibility to make sure benefits are broadly felt on the South Side, Nesbitt said.

He said people will not have to wait until the presidential library opens in 2021 to get involved, and the foundation will become much more active in the neighborhoods next year.

The president and first lady plan to play an active role in the foundation, Nesbitt said.

Before Wednesday's news conference, the reasons for choosing Jackson Park over Washington Park were left open to speculation.

The site's proximity to the lake and the Museum of Science and Industry — and the large amount of development in Washington Park to keep tourists there after visiting the library — have all been offered as possible theories for why Jackson Park was chosen.

Washington Park was long favored by neighbors hoping the library could be transformative for the struggling neighborhood.

There also was the possibility of a fight with parks advocates if Washington Park was chosen because the area proposed included the city's only tree arboretum and oaks older than the park itself.

But early Wednesday, Friends of the Parks said it would not challenge the library's construction in Jackson Park.

“The design of the Obama library should maximize the use of available vacant land and underground space, and be truly ‘park positive’ by adding parkland to the surrounding community,” said Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks. “Furthermore, any design should upgrade the park's facilities and preserve existing recreational uses by the public.” 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the group for being cooperative after fights over the Lucas Museum.

"I'm glad they're not going to sue because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Emanuel said.

As attention moves toward Jackson Park, residents of Washington Park are now considering how to capture some of the benefits the library could bring and redevelop the neighborhood now that the University of Chicago and its projects with artist Theaster Gates are the largest projects in the near future.

The library’s expected $220 million in economic activity spurred by the library will likely have a much more direct impact on the Woodlawn neighborhood, which is directly west of the library site, and Hyde Park, where development has been accelerating in recent years.

The full benefits from the library likely will not be felt for some time, with the new presidential center and grounds not expected to open until at least 2021.

This map shows where the University of Chicago proposed the presidential library and its grounds go now that the Obama Foundation has chosen Jackson Park. [Courtesy of the University of Chicago]

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