Chicago soon may win the Obama presidential library in spite of itself.
Earlier this month, it was far from a done deal. Although the Windy City was where Barack Obama launched his career and started his family, and where his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel now serves as mayor, a seemingly mundane land use dispute nearly derailed the proposal to build the library at the University of Chicago. Meanwhile, Columbia University, Obama’s alma mater, stepped into the breach — offering 17 drama-free acres in upper Manhattan.
It took personal intervention by Emanuel, who faces reelection next week, to find a way to end the land dispute and put Chicago — specifically, the city’s South Side — back at the front of the pack. That would locate the library in the neighborhood the president represented in the state Senate, anchor it to the school where he used to teach and put it within walking distance of the home he still owns.
The Barack Obama Foundation, the nonprofit charged with siting the library, is set to announce the location by the end of next month. Obama was set to visit the neighborhood on Thursday and get a briefing by foundation members on the library plans.
“Now that they’ve done the real estate deal, it’s probably Chicago’s to lose,” said Benjamin Hufbauer, an expert on the politics of presidential libraries, who also teaches at the University of Louisville and has followed the bidding process closely, even as he noted that Columbia’s bid is a competitive one.
Emanuel has vowed to “move heaven and earth” to make sure the library is built in his city, either to the University of Chicago or to a less likely spot offered by the University of Illinois-Chicago.
The land dispute that nearly scuttled the University of Chicago’s proposal arose because the university didn’t actually own all of the land it offered up, prompting significant concerns from the foundation. Some of it was park land, and some residents who opposed losing public green space have threatened a lawsuit.The dispute simmered for weeks until Emanuel brokered a proposal under which the Chicago Park District would transfer control of several potential sites to the city, which could then offer them to the foundation.
Click here to read more.
Katie Glueck, Edward-Isaac Dovere