North Lawndale Residents Redouble Efforts To Get Obama Library

CHICAGO (CBS) — West Side residents staged a rally Thursday to make their case for building the proposed Obama Presidential Library in North Lawndale.

Under a proposal from the University of Illinois at Chicago, a visitor center would be built atop the Jane Byrne Interchange, much the same as Millennium Park was built over a rail terminal. The actual library and museum would be built on the infamous Silver Shovel dumping site near Roosevelt Road and Kostner Avenue. The 23-acre site was once illegal garbage dump that was a focus of the FBI’s Operation Silver Shovel investigation, which led to the convictions of six aldermen. The dumping site has since been remediated.

However, most of the land is vacant and city-owned, and Lawndale Alliance Co-Founder Valerie Leonard said that is an advantage over the controversial parkland purchases that would be required if it were built on either of the South Side sites proposed by the University of Chicago.

Leonard said the South Side sites are “the frontrunners” because of the President’s roots as a South Side community organizer, but she said the UIC/North Lawndale site fulfills much of what the Obama Library Foundation wants.

“Our President has lived in a number of places, and wherever he’s been, he’s left his mark,” she said. “Clearly, he’s done some organizing on the South Side, but he was a senator for the whole state of Illinois. He was my senator.”

Leonard said there is no doubt North Lawndale needs the library. She said it has had no planned development in 60 years.

She said UIC’s proposed site is close to public transportation; Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged to reopen the long-shuttered Kostner CTA Blue Line station should the site be chosen.

Leonard also said it is centrally located, with the Loop, and O’Hare and Midway Airports a short drive; and she said the vacant land is “shovel-ready.”

The only question for many residents, she said, is what construction of the library in North Lawndale would do to rents, and if housing would remain affordable.

She suggested a “community benefits agreement” be reached between the city of Chicago and the Barack Obama Foundation to address those and other issues that might arise.

The Library Foundation is considering the UIC and University of Chicago bids, as well as proposals from Columbia University in New York, where Obama received his undergraduate degree, and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, where Obama was born.

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