Three Chicago Universities Say They Deserve to Host Obama Library

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Universities and cities across the country are all vying for the Obama Presidential Library, and with the “request for qualifications” deadline having passed, bidders are now anxiously waiting.

The document was due Monday, June 16, to the Obama Presidential Foundation. Interested parties come from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago State University, the University of Chicago and even the University of Hawaii. There are 13 bidders total.

Martin Nesbitt, chair of the foundation said in a statement:

“We appreciate the time, effort, and planning that have gone into the 13 responses we’ve received to the Foundation’s Request for Qualifications. These ideas will ultimately help us build a library that reflects President Obama’s priorities and values throughout his life and career, and makes our whole nation proud. We will run a level and fair process to evaluate how well each response captures the vision and goals of the future Obama Presidential Library, and based on what we see, the Foundation will identify a short-list of potential partners to receive a Request for Proposal later this summer.”

The foundation wants a library that will reflect Obama’s own values and priorities, which he has demonstrated throughout his career in public service.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC, has partnered with the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee. The organization’s spokesman, Marcus Betts, said that they deserve to host the historic library because their principles align the most with the president’s.

“One of the guided principals talks about leveraging community assets as a part of this plan and we have some of the strongest in Chicago, which differentiates us,” he said.

The library would provide access to computers and programs for youth in the neighborhood, he said.

Their proposed 23-acre site sits between West 5th Avenue to the north, South Kildare Avenue to the east, West Roosevelt Road to the south, and South Kostner Avenue to the west. It is also south of the Eisenhower Expressway and the CTA Blue Line.

“The UIC-North Lawndale partnership brings together a major public research university and a community organized for change to further advance the ideals and legacy of president Barack Obama,” said Paula Allen-Meares, UIC Chancellor in a news release.

Betts said that the community can also offer tourist sites since it has a large concentration of historic Jewish synagogues. U.S. Route 66 runs through the community and is historic because it was one of the original highways in the country that went from Chicago to California. And the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. selected the community in 1966 as the base for the northern civil rights movement.

UIC proposed two other sites, which Betts also believes is good because of the proximity to the downtown area.

The Harrison Field is located at the intersection of Harrison and Halsted Street and the Illinois Medical District is at Taylor Street and Ashland Avenue. Both areas can be easily accessed from public transportation.

The University of Chicago also put in their bid and they said they have received “tremendous” support from local community organizations about hosting the library and many are “enthusiastic” about the possibility of having the institution.

The university has partnered with KLEO Community Family Life Center, Pastor Byron T. Brazier of Apostolic Church of God and chairman of Network of Woodlawn, the Museum of Science and Industry to name a few.

“The South Side provides a unique opportunity for the library,” said Susan Sher, senior advisor to university president Robert Zimmer. “The kind of investment that a presidential library involves is sort of a once in lifetime opportunity.”

The university wants the presidential library to be in one of the neighboring communities that would really benefit from the economic development it would bring. The university conducted a study to measure the economic impact it would have and researchers found that it would create 1,900 new permanent jobs, with a $220 million in annual economic impact and 800,000 annual visitors. The report found that the development could also host 30 new restaurants, 11 new retail outlets and a new hotel in the surrounding neighborhoods.

There has been controversy though.

The Trauma Center Coalition, a group of community organizations and students, said no to the library if the community can’t even get a trauma center. The closest is Northwestern, which is about 10 miles away and with the violence, it’s important that victims of gun violence have a closer place to go to, they said.

They held protests for a week last month.

“Until the University of Chicago shows real commitment to the surrounding community, the Obama library should be placed at another Southside institution,” said Victoria Crider, a high school senior at King College Prep.

Chicago State is another bidder who said they offer something special that no one else can bring. Dr. Richard Darga, dean of library and instructional services said they have legacy.

“Pullman, Roseland, Chattam, are places near the 95th St. quarter where Obama really got started so this library brings him back, full circle, to where it began,” he said.

“We have all the other things you need including close connections to higher education and excellent accessible public transportation,” said Darga.

The foundation will make a decision in early 2015. According to its website, funding for the library comes from private and non-federal funds that are donated to the Presidential Library Foundation, which is a non-profit.

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