U. of C. official discusses university bid for Obama library

Derek Douglas
Derek Douglas
Staff Writer

U. of C. Vice President for Civic Engagement Derek Douglas detailed the university’s bid for the Obama library at Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) monthly meeting last week, touting the benefits of a mid-South Side location but cautioning that the competition from New York was considerable.

The University of Chicago submitted its proposal to host the Obama library to the Barack Obama Foundation on June 16. The U. of C. suggested three locations but indicated it would be open to others in a neighboring community that could benefit economically, according to Douglas, who served as an adviser to the president on urban policy before joining the university.

“What we said was that the University of Chicago would like to see the library somewhere in the mid-South Side, in a neighborhood near the university. We would be open to supporting whatever the president or first lady want to see in those areas,” Douglas said.

He added, “Some people thought it was a smart decision, some people thought it wasn’t a smart strategy. But when you pick a location, if they don’t want to put it there, then you’re out. So part of our thinking was to make it clear to them that we want to do what you want to do.”

The U. of C. has proposed locations for the Obama library in the vicinity of 55th Street and King Drive, 63rd Street and Stony Island Avenue and the South Shore Cultural Center, Douglas said. According to him, the library would serve to boost the concept of a South Side network of cultural institutions as outlined by the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, dubbed “Museum Campus South.”

“This Museum Campus South concept, really comes to life, rivaling what they have on the North [Side], and really, I think, rivaling what you could see at any other city in America,” Douglas said.

Douglas called New York’s bid a “real threat,” citing the expansion of Columbia University and the uncertainty of where the Obama family will settle next. But he added that New York did not have the connection to the Obamas and enthusiasm about a library that Chicago did, and said that the U. of C. would lend its support to any institution in Chicago to win the bid.