Obama Presidential Library Debate to Continue at Park District Hearing | NBC Chicago
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Obama Presidential Library Debate to Continue at Park District Hearing

Attendees at the public hearing discuss whether the Chicago Park District should transfer parts of Washington and Jackson Parks to the city

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    Hundreds turn out for the first public meeting to discuss plans to lure the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side. NBC Chicago's Dick Johnson reports. (Published Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015)

    The Obama Presidential Library debate may come to a head Wednesday at the second of two public hearings to discuss the University of Chicago's proposal to use park land for the library. The first hearing took place Tuesday night at Hyde Park Academy with attendance numbering in the hundreds.

    The Chicago Park District is holding the public meeting Wednesday at noon at the Washington Park Fieldhouse, which is located in one of the parks included in the University of Chicago's proposal.

    Chicago has put forward two proposals for the presidential library and museum -- one from the University of Chicago and the other from the University of Illinois at Chicago. While Mayor Rahm Emanuel seems confident in Chicago's prospects for landing the library, the Barack Obama Foundation has expressed concern over the bids, particularly the University of Chicago's, which was previously the frontrunner.

    The university proposed to build parts of the library and museum in Washington and Jackson Parks, which are currently owned by the park district. This week's hearings are taking place to discuss the decision of transferring those parts of the park land to the city to strengthen the bid proposal.

    Several residents and community activists are not on board with the possible transfer of land, however. The group Friends of the Parks believes the city needs to protect its open space.

    "Our concern is really the erosion of park land, particularly in a park that has such an amazing historical perspective," Cassandra Francis, the president of Friends of the Parks, said.

    Residents of the South Side are split in their feelings toward the library. Some believe it will bring jobs and help the South Side economy, while others are protesting the construction of the library when the area does not have a trauma center and other more necessary services.

    "We do not need a library to better our community. We need what's already in the community to be better," Veronica Morris, a community activist, said at Tuesday's public hearing.

    Others yet believe the library deserves to be built on the South Side for symbolic reasons.

    "(It could bring) many people all across the world to see that he accomplished what many thought was the impossible," Timuel Black, a 96-year-old retired Chicago Public Schools history teacher, said on Tuesday.

    While the University of Chicago, which is near the Obamas' old Kenwood home, was considered the frontrunner for the library, the University of Illinois at Chicago also submitted a proposal. These two locations, along with Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, are all still in the running to land the library.

    The Barack Obama Foundation is still reviewing all four proposals, and it expects the Obamas to make the final decision early this year.

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