Chicago Scrambles To Remain Top Contender For Obama Library

Jan 14, 2015
Originally published on January 20, 2015 12:31 am
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Chicago, New York and Hawaii are all lobbying to be the home of a presidential library for Barack Obama. It might seem like the president's hometown would have the edge, but Chicago is scrambling to remain a top contender. More than a thousand people in Chicago showed up at a hearing last night and again today to weigh in on the matter. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: As hundreds of people packed the lobby of Hyde Park Career Academy, some called this the most well-attended Park District hearing ever.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Please don't push and shove. Everyone will get into this building.

CORLEY: And inside, when Dr. Leon Finney stepped to the podium to announce his support for two University of Chicago bids that would place the Obama library in one of two Southside parks, it was a little like a revival meeting.

LEON FINNEY: It's time to say, yes, Mr. President, we want you to bring it on home. We came to win it. We came to get this library for the city of Chicago.

CORLEY: Here's the rub. The foundation considering all the bids says the city should control the land and not the park district. So the issue is whether the park district should hand over about 20 acres of parkland to the city. After Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, found out about the foundation's concerns, he said he'd step in to make sure Chicago remains competitive.

MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: And that this becomes an easy decision for the president to pick his hometown for where his presidential library, in my view, belongs.

CORLEY: But at the Park District hearings, not everyone was on board. Lauren Moltz, the chairman of Friends of the Park, says fine to an Obama Library in Chicago - just not where the University of Chicago proposed it.

LAUREN MOLTZ: These parks were designed by one of the world's most visionary landscape architects. They are neither the city of Chicago's, the Chicago Park District nor the University of Chicago's to carve up and give away.

CORLEY: Although the focus hearings is about placing an Obama library on the city's south side, there's also a bid from the University of Illinois in Chicago. And Chicagoan, Cotta Truss(ph), says that proposal, which would place the library on the city's west side, is still very much in the running.

COTTA TRUSS: This economic boost that this library will bring can be a viable piece of legacy wherever it's located. And it does not have to be regulated to a park or green space.

CORLEY: The president and First Lady are expected to choose a location by the end of March. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.