UChicago wins bid for Obama's presidential library, museum, foundation

Local residents say they hope it will bring an economic boost to the impoverished area

The Barack Obama Presidential Center will be built in partnership with the University of Chicago (UChicago) and located on the South Side of the city—although the exact location has not yet been determined, the mayor and chair of the president's foundation announced on Tuesday.

The center is to encompass a library, museum, and foundation space, said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Supporters say they hope the addition will jumpstart the economy in the area, where high rates of violence and low income levels mark a divide from the city's wealthier population to the north.

"With a library and a foundation on the South Side of Chicago, not only will we be able to encourage and effect change locally, but what we can also do is to attract the world to Chicago," the president said in a statement.

Foundation officials say they also have plans to work with the other finalists: the state of Hawaii, University of Illinois Chicago, and Columbia University.

The decision to award the library to UChicago was made in March, but the announcement was held off until Emanuel won his mayoral re-election runoff, according to sources, because Obama wanted to know who would be in office at the kickoff of the library project—which is estimated to cost $500 million.

Prior to joining the Senate, Barack Obama was a senior lecturer at UChicago's law school and Michelle Obama served in leading administrative roles at the school's medical center.

"We feel it is extremely positive for the city," says Bonnie McDonald, president of preservation group Landmarks Illinois.

The center will likely either be located in Washington Park or Jackson Park. Recently, Emanuel's office fast-tracked legislation authorizing park land for a presidential library, although one nonprofit is threatening a lawsuit to stop such a location. The final decision is expected within six to nine months, according to foundation officials, and construction may be complete by 2020 to 2021.

"No matter where it is, both communities will still benefit from the library," says Byron Brazier, a well-known pastor who lives in Washington Park and works in Woodlawn. "We are economically tied together; we share a common boundary; we share a common demographic," he says.

Leaders of other presidential libraries say Obama's relative youth gives him an opportunity to have a significant public role when his term is up, and his library may provide him with a platform.

"One of the things I think the Obama library foundation can learn from previous presidents' libraries is that they are not just about the past but in cases of former presidents like Presidents Carter, Clinton or Obama, they're about the future,” says James "Skip" Rutherford III, who managed the planning and opening of Clinton's library (Mufson, Washington Post, 5/12; Bosman/Smith, New York Times, 5/12).

The takeaway: The Barack Obama Presidential Center will partner with the University of Chicago and be located on the South Side of the city, although the exact location has yet to be determined.

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