Aldermen Overwhelmingly Support Transferring Park Land For Obama Library

CHICAGO (CBS) — A trio of City Council committees has overwhelmingly recommended the city take control of Park Distric land on the South Side if President Barack Obama chooses the University of Chicago’s bid for his presidential library and museum.

The university has proposed building the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum on one of two sites, either in Jackson Park or in Washington Park.

At a joint meeting Wednesday, three City Council panels voted heavily in favor of the Emanuel administration’s plan to transfer about 20 acres of land in either park to the city if the Barack Obama Foundation picks the University of Chicago’s library bid.

“All we are asking the council to do today is approve the conveyance of land from the Park District to the city, should one or another of the South Side locations be selected by the library foundation,” Chicago Housing and Economic Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney said

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), voted yes, but admitted a preference for Jackson Park, which is located in her ward.

“Either site would be fine, but again I am partial to that which sits in the 5th Ward. The opportunity here is tremendous.

The Washington Park site is located in the neighboring 4th and 20th Wards.

The University of Chicago’s plan would call for the library to be built on 3 to 5 acres of land in Jackson Park or Washington Park. The agreement with the Emanuel administration would require the remaining 15 to 18 acres of the library site to be open green space. The city also would have to replace the open space given up for the library building by providing an equal amount of green space elsewhere in the city.

Friends of the Parks president Cassandra Francis said the group supports having the Obama library in Chicago, but not on public park land.

“We find it problematic to support the selective amputation of a historic public park to build a massive building,” she said.

She said there’s fine land just across the street from either site proposed by the University of Chicago, and suggested open space advocates might go to court over the matter.

“The parks are irreplaceable assets worth fighting for, and we defend this legacy fiercely, sometimes even through the courts when necessary,” she said.

However, the Obama Foundation has said a poll of residents who live near the two parks found only 24 percent opposed to using park lands for the library, while 70 percent support doing so.

At Wednesday’s hearing, several local residents testified the cultural, economic, and historic benefits of the library would be unequaled.

The ordinance goes before the full City Council next week.

The mayor moved to have the city take control of park land for the library to shore up the University of Chicago’s bid, after the Barack Obama Foundation expressed reservations that neither the city nor the university controlled the land it wants to use for the library.

The University of Chicago is competing with three other bids for the library. The University of Illinois at Chicago has proposed building the library in North Lawndale on the West Side, on 23 acres of land already owned by the city, and the mayor has committed to donating that land to UIC if it gets the library.

Columbia University in New York City and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu also are competing for the library, and Columbia has been seen as the most formidable opposition to Chicago.

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