Obama library will be on Chicago's South Side
Chicago — President Barack Obama has decided to build his presidential library on the South Side of Chicago, where his political career began.
The Barack Obama Foundation announced in a news release early Tuesday that the library will be erected on park land that was proposed by the University of Chicago. The site was selected over bids made by Columbia University in New York, the University of Hawaii and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"With a library and a foundation on the South Side of Chicago, not only will we be able to encourage and affect change locally, but what we can also do is to attract the world to Chicago." Obama said in a video accompanying the release. "All the strands of my life came together and I really became a man when I moved to Chicago. That's where I was able to apply that early idealism to try to work in communities in public service. That's where I met my wife. That's where my children were born."
The decision was hardly a surprise. The University of Chicago's bid was long considered a front-runner, and people with direct knowledge of the decision told The Associated Press and other media nearly two weeks ago that it was the winner. But thanks to a dispute over whether the library could be built at the site proposed by the university, things did not go as smoothly as expected.
Both the president and first lady once worked at the university, and they still maintain a house near campus. Obama taught constitutional law and worked as a community organizer on the South Side. First lady Michelle Obama is a Chicago native and worked as an administrator at the University of Chicago Medical Center.
"Every value, every memory, every important relationship to me exists in Chicago. I consider myself a South Sider," Michelle Obama said.
Supporters of the bid say the South Side will benefit from the library, providing construction jobs and permanent jobs to handle the hundreds of thousands of visitors that the library is expected to receive every year.
In recent weeks, city officials were forced to take extra steps to reassure foundation officials after they expressed concerns that the city had not secured public park land that would be used as part of the University of Chicago bid. The City Council passed an ordinance to allow transfer of the land, and state lawmakers passed a bill reinforcing the city's right to use the park land for the Obama library as well as Star Wars creator George Lucas' proposed lakefront museum.
"Over the past months, the city has come together to bring the library to its rightful place in Chicago," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the release. The foundation said it will open offices on Chicago's South Side by the end of the year.
The library is expected to be an economic boon to the South Side, a part of the city that includes impoverished neighborhoods wracked with crime and high unemployment. Throughout the process, the university and area aldermen stressed that the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the library would mean thousands of jobs and millions of dollars. People are expected to come from around the world to view and study artifacts and documents from Obama's political career.
"We believe opening the presidential center will mark a watershed moment for the South Side and the city, serving as a catalyst for economic and cultural opportunities." Robert Zimmer, the president of the university, said in a statement.
One remaining question is how the foundation will select between two properties near campus, Washington Park or Jackson Park, both of which are potential sites under the university plan. Foundation Chairman Marty Nesbitt, a friend of Obama, said at an afternoon news conference that he suspects a specific site selection would take six to nine months, but that the library would be finished in 2020 or 2021.
"We feel that there's so much support from the community and state that it's worth pursuing," Nesbitt told reporters.
The news release said the University of Chicago's "has pledged to make resources and infrastructure available to the foundation in the near term for its planning and development work." Nesbitt said the university and foundation would be independent entities but, "we will be good neighbors."
Meanwhile, the foundation said it plans to collaborate with each of the other three finalists. It will pursue a long-term presence at Columbia University, work with the state of Hawaii to establish a presence in Honolulu and will also collaborate with the University of Illinois-Chicago.