Rejecting a rough-edged urban site for what could be a showcase near the lakefront, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have selected Chicago’s historic Jackson Park as the site of his presidential library, sources said Wednesday.
The choice, which leaked out ahead of a formal announcement expected next week, elated some South Side residents but disappointed advocates of the other finalist site, Washington Park, whose surrounding neighborhood is pockmarked by vacant lots.
Capping more than a year of competition between the two South Side sites, the selection will put the library within blocks of the popular Museum of Science and Industry and in a park that drew millions of visitors from around the world during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Together, the two attractions might form a “Museum Campus South” that could rival the downtown Museum Campus. The center would be a short hop from either Lake Shore Drive or two Metra train stations, strong pulls for visitors.
For Washington Park residents, however, the news marked the second loss of a major project that promised an economic renaissance. The park was the centerpiece of the city’s failed bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation, the nonprofit charged with building the presidential center, declined to confirm or deny the Jackson Park selection. But the news was saluted in an official statement from U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, a Democrat from south suburban Matteson whose district includes Jackson Park.
“I think it’s a benefit to the South Side of Chicago, period,” Kelly said in an interview. “No matter which park it’s in, it’s good for the South Side and uplifting to have a presidential library there.”
Yet the optimistic sentiments were tempered by concerns that the center will accelerate gentrification in neighborhoods around Jackson Park.
“Residents need to buckle down and figure out how to stay here,” said Mattie Butler, executive director of the Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors group.
Park preservationists also expressed disappointment about the choice because it means the library will have a bigger footprint in Jackson Park. Like Washington Park and the Midway Plaisance, the strip of green that connects the two finalist sites, Jackson Park was designed by the great 19th-century landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
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SOURCE: The Chicago Tribune – Kathy Bergen, Blair Kamin and Katherine Skiba