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U. of C. reaches out for partners in bid for Obama library

WASHINGTON DC - MARCH 4:  U.S. President Barack Obamright looks as Devputs away his pencil as he visits visits

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 4: U.S. President Barack Obama, right, looks on as Devin puts away his pencil as he visits visits a classroom of 4 and 5 year olds at Powell Elementary School on March 4, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Obama later delivered remarks on the FY 2015 and also took a question on the situation in the Ukraine. (Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 459829123

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Updated: March 5, 2014 10:32PM

WASHINGTON — The University of Chicago, far from going it alone, is reaching out for partners in its quest to land the Obama presidential library and museum on the South Side of Chicago, already taking steps to collaborate with potential rivals: the University of Hawaii, the University of Illinois and a leading Bronzeville community group.

In a series of exclusive interviews I’ve learned:

Hawaii, the birthplace of President Barack Obama, is not competing for what would be the massive library and museum. Instead, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercromie told me the state wants to land an Obama presidential center in Honolulu — as a “natural adjunct to whatever physical presence a presidential library would have on the mainland.”
Abercromie and Susan Sher, the University of Chicago executive leading the drive for the project — and former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama — have discussed possible collaborations. Sher and two other U. of C. officials — library project manager Alice McLean and executive vice president David Green -- visited Honolulu in January and met with, among others, Abercromie and the Honolulu mayor. The U. of C. earlier hosted a delegation from Hawaii.

“We did talk about collaborating, and they are open to it, and we are open to it,” Sher said. Abercromie — a friend of Obama’s parents and grandparents — told me he is receptive to a U. of C. partnership.

As for the Hawaii/Chicago visits, “They took us to the proposed site, for example, and we basically drove them around the South Side of Chicago,” Sher said.

University of Illinois Board Chair Chris Kennedy, who has been working on a plan to anchor the library complex at the West Side UIC campus, told me he got a call from a top U. of C. official who told him “they want to bring a cooperative spirit to the movement to bring a library to Chicago . . . By working together, we would have better results than if we worked alone,” Kennedy said, adding "the voice of the West Side needs to be heard.” Kennedy told me he was “very receptive” to the U. of C. outreach and is open to being “committed to working together.”

Paula Robinson, the managing partner of the Bronzeville Community Development Partnership — touting the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 29th and Ellis — told me she met with Sher and they are collaborating. “Let’s make sure we choose the best site,” Robinson said. “We are not in a battle.”

Just as the U. of Hawaii is contemplating an Obama Center, offshoots of a library and museum could be envisioned for the various Chicago interests, which includes Chicago State University, which is pushing a site near its campus at 9501 S. King Dr.

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