Like everyone else we talk to, we are in favor of bringing the Barack Obama Presidential Library to the South Side of Chicago. We think it will be a powerful symbol. It probably will also be a modest but positive economic contributor, and it can be thoughtfully accomplished without displacing residents. We do wonder, though, if there is going to be more fighting over the two South Side options being considered.
Both proposals site the library in a major park. There is a risk that taking land from Washington Park or Jackson Park for the library will continue to raise controversy and protest. What impact would a lawsuit to prevent such a taking have on the the library foundation? What impact would such a court filing have on both the fundraising and the design and construction schedule?
Given the overwhelmingly positive value of the project in and of itself, we cannot help but wonder why it couldn’t be put somewhere else. Why not build the library on the cleared Michael Reese Hospital site? It is on the South Side, already city-owned, vacant and, at 37 acres, plenty big for the library. It compares favorably with, for example, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library site in Boston, which is the best example of an urban presidential library yet built and similarly situated relative to the city’s downtown.
The Reese site is closer to the University of Chicago than its downtown campus. It is very accessible. It is a self-contained location without the complexity of the public interest in the parks.
And did we mention the lake? Why would anyone build a campus of such importance in Chicago and not use a lakefront option? It is as central to the story of Chicago’s rise as Chicago is central to Obama’s.
With controversy surrounding the park options, why are we not talking about the Michael Reese hospital site?