Obama Library at Reese site?

By LINDSAY WELBERS
Staff Writer

The former Michael Reese Hospital site is among the contenders as a location for the Barack Obama Presidential Library.

The Michael Reese site has 37 acres of wide-open land on the city’s lakefront. It has been vacant since the hospital closed in 2008.

In 2008, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley borrowed $85 million to buy the site, hoping it would house Olympic athletes. When the city fell out of the running for the 2016 games, the price rose to $91 million. Daley then spent another $15 million demolishing the buildings that had previously stood there.

In the spring of 2012 Mayor Rahm Emanuel was able to refinance the loan through MRL Financing LLC and saved $14.5 million over the life of the transaction.

The property’s loan came due in 2014.

In December of 2012, Emanuel’s administration paid Skidmore Owings & Merill, an architectural firm, $885,000 to conduct a study about the economic options for the site.

The most profitable use for the site, the study concluded, was a casino. The previous month Emanuel declared bringing a casino to Chicago among his top priorities.

Putting the Obama library on that site would have the support of some neighbors, who like the idea of a library and educational center and favor it over a gambling site.

In September 2012, 50 Bronzeville residents met to discuss potential uses for the site. The most vocally supported idea was the Barack Obama Presidential Library. The suggestion of a casino as met with a chorus of “no.”

At that meeting neighbors said they wanted to see education, sports, technology and entertainment come to the site. They wanted to see it full 24 hours a day with lots of lighting and security.

Harold Lucas, president of the Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council, said the neighborhood has been demanding the Obama library at Michael Reese for the past year and a half.

Lucas said it’s an ideal site because of its proximity to the lakefront, the taxpayers have already paid for it, the site is demolished and ready for construction and the area surrounding it would stand to benefit economically from its presence.

Lucas called Obama a “highly intelligent vagabond” when he came to the South Side of Chicago to be a community organizer.

“He didn’t come here to go to the University of Chicago — he came here to be a community organizer,” Lucas said.

University president Robert Zimmer has said he supports bringing the Obama library to the South Side of Chicago but has not specified where.

l.welbers@hpherald.com