The Chicago Committee on Housing and Real Estate on Wednesday approved a transfer of land from the Chicago Park District to the City, potentially bolstering the University of Chicago’s chances to land the Obama Presidential Library.
The ordinance, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, seeks an agreement between the city and the Park District for the conveyance of 20 acres of land, which is intended to accommodate the development of the library at one of two potential South Side locations — Washington Park or Jefferson Park.
The proposal will be heard by the full City Council on March 18.
Both the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago are vying for the project and both have made proposals to the Obama Library Foundation. The city already owns the land for UIC’s proposed site.
Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Urban Development, said the city plans to replace the conveyed parkland and the opportunity to land the library is worth the cost.
“The transfer of land from the park district to the city is not unprecedented,” Mooney said. “We have the opportunity to deepen the historic nature of the parks.”
In addition to the cultural benefits of landing the library, Mooney also points to the economic benefits, saying the library is projected to attract 800,000 visitors per year and annual revenues of $110 million. Mooney said the library will also create 2,000 permanent jobs.
Michelle Boone, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, echoed Mooney’s sentiments.
“Adding the Obama Presidential Library among our already rich roster of institutions in our city would build on our heritage of being the home to many treasured resources,” Boone said. “It would enhance Chicago’s reputation as a world-class city.”
The library has also gained community support from local organizations such as the Comer Science and Education Foundation and YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.
Greg Mooney, executive director of the Comer Science and Education Foundation at the Gary Comer Youth Center, said the foundation is an enthusiastic supporter of the South Side site proposals and said the library will enrich young people across Chicago.
Dorri McWhorter, Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, said the site will have a direct impact on YWCA’s efforts to reduce violence and improve access to quality education, training, and economic sustainability.
“We believe the museum will drive community stabilization and economic growth,” McWhorter said.
However, some groups have reservations about using public park land for the development and construction of the library.
Cassandra Francis, president of Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve, protect, improve and promote the use of parks and open spaces throughout the Chicago area, said the transfer of public lands sets a dangerous precedent of opportunistic planning violates the public trust.
Francis said Friends of the Parks supports the location of the Obama Presidential Library in Chicago but she said there is enough premium non-park land to build on, including an 11-acre city-owned site across the street from Washington Park as well as UIC’s two proposed sites.
Francis said the economic impact of the library will still accrue with any of these other locations.
If the ordinance passes the full council, the city will then await the decision of the Obama Library Foundation, which is also considering proposed sites in Hawaii and New York City.
Mooney said the land conveyance will not occur if neither Chicago site is chosen.