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Emanuel puts his muscle behind S. Side site for Obama library

President Barack Obamtalks with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he walks off Air Force One after arriving O'Hare International Airport

President Barack Obama talks with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as he walks off Air Force One after arriving at O'Hare International Airport on May 22, 2014. | AP Photo/Paul Beaty

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WASHINGTON — Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum to be built on Chicago’s South Side, offering a package of public and private economic help to spur community redevelopment, create jobs and offer educational opportunities for students, no matter where they go to school, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

“I believe the library should be housed on the South Side, not only because that is where the president began his career and made a home for his family, but because that is where the economic, job creation and social impact of the library will be the greatest,” Emanuel wrote in a May 25 letter to Marty Nesbitt, the close friend of President Barack Obama who leads the Barack Obama Presidential Foundation.

Emanuel is putting on the table a proposal tailored for the Chicago-based foundation, which asked bidders to submit plans to show how the library could serve as an “economic engine” and make a “civic contribution” in the community where it will be located.

The mayor did not pick a specific South Side site because there will be competing bids submitted by a variety of South Side Chicago players. Anyway, there is no need at this stage to designate a favorite. Proposals are also expected by the Monday deadline from Hawaii and Columbia University in New York.

Emanuel told Nesbitt the city will:

◆ Use City Hall muscle to create a “citywide steering committee of business, civic, planning and government leaders” to maximize South Side development triggered by the library.

◆ Create a novel “local education zone,” opening library programming to elementary, high school and community college students. This helps the University of Chicago the most. While the U. of C. is the front-runner, it is seen in some quarters as a closed, elite institution.

◆ Create a mayoral steering committee with City Hall commissioners and its transportation partners, CTA and Metra to “improve” transportation options for the site.

◆ Make sure the entire South Side benefits “from this historic investment.” “The city will provide new streetscapes and landscapes in and around the library, and expansive enough to include the surrounding neighborhood.”

◆ Tap the private World Business Chicago to play a key role to “assist local business owners and entrepreneurs” to launch new business to “capture” new tourism and business opportunities. WBC will open a neighborhood office with City Hall’s Planning Department, putting staff in it to work with neighborhood retail and real estate interests to “assist in financing for new developments and refurbishments.”

Last January, Emanuel told me that he wanted the Chicago players to unite behind one bid, but that was before the foundation announced a two-step process in March, designed in part to give every potential respondent a shot at making a presentation.

Emanuel recalibrated. The mayor tapped senior advisor David Spielfogel to lead the team that developed the plan sent to Nesbitt.

The final site decision is up to the president and first lady Michelle Obama.

I reported earlier this year that the U. of C. will propose three sites:

◆ The South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Dr.

◆ An area near 55th and King Drive

◆ A site close to Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island.

The Bronzeville community group proposed one:

◆ The old Michael Reese Hospital site at 2929 S. Ellis.

Developer Dan McCaffery proposed a Lakefront site:

◆ The far Southeast Side site of the former U.S. Steel South Works.

Chicago State University will propose two sites:

◆ 95th Street between King Drive. and Cottage Grove

◆ An area near 99th and King Drive.

The University of Illinois Chicago will propose two sites:

◆ Harrison Field, at the northwest corner of Halsted and Harrison

◆ The Northwest and Southwest corners of Taylor and Ashland in the Illinois Medical District.

Emanuel thinks a South Side site “is most ideal. But obviously, if the president wants it on the West Side, the city would work with them to make that a reality as well. . . . Chicago will not say no. The mayor is just making his case on this one,” a City Hall source said.


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