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A dozen sites offered in bids on Obama presidential library

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are being offered a dozen sites — from Honolulu to Harlem to Hyde Park and other Chicago locations — for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. The bids emphasize Obama’s singular place in African-American history and how the facility would trigger economic renewal and community engagement.

Seven bidders delivered voluminous proposals by the Monday deadline to the Barack Obama Presidential Foundation, at 300 E. Randolph in Chicago, the offices of Marty Nesbitt, the Obama close friend who is one of the foundation’s leaders.

Though no last-minute entrants were expected, the foundation did not want to comment until the midnight deadline expired.

The next step is for the foundation and the first family to distill the presentations and decide who advances to the next round, a process that could take several months.

The Monday deadline was for submission of a “request for qualifications” document for parties that want to host the library. The designation of proposed sites was the key specific request in the document.

The next major emphasis of the RFQ, released on March 20, was that the bids demonstrate how the library could serve as an economic engine and how local organizations would figure into the mix as potential partners.

Toward that end, the University of Illinois at Chicago on Monday bolstered its bid by adding and emphasizing a North Lawndale site — 23 acres boarded by West Fifth Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Kostner Avenue and Kildare Avenue — and a new partner, the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee. That’s in addition to previously disclosed sites on its West Side campus and at the university’s nearby Medical Center campus.

In Washington on Monday afternoon, Alyssa Mastromonaco, an adviser to the Obama foundation and one of Obama’s former deputy chiefs of staff, and Charles Olivier, a foundation staffer, met with UIC officials, a delegation of students and a North Lawndale community representative.

Each of the students — a veteran, a Pell grant receipient, a computer science doctoral candidate, a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Hispanic activist and one studying medicine — told a personal “story” and how it fit into the RFQ theme of “shared destiny.”

The RFQ asked respondents to present concepts more than blueprints, though one bidder, representing the Bronzeville community, submitted renderings by the architecture firm HOK of what a structure could look like on a site anchored at the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 2929 S. Ellis.

The UIC bid — which was publically disclosed — used a metaphor of concentric rings to describe its vision. “This is a library understood as a set of flexible rights of diverse character, rings that themselves can be rotated to set up new adjacencies among activities,” the UIC bid said. “The primary question for the Library is not simply where should it go, but rather what can it do?”

Developer Dan McCaffery and U.S. Steel submitted a bid for the library for the former U.S. Steel South Works site at 79th and Lake Michigan. His pitch is that the library could help jump-start a renewal of the lagging South Shore communities nearby.

McCaffery has no institutional partner — at one time he tried for a deal with the University of Chicago — which he told me on Monday should be considered by the Obamas as a plus, not a minus.

“We feel liberated by that because part of our RFQ is we are an institutional-neutral site,” making it easier to form collaborations with all area schools, McCaffery said.

The bid from the Bronzeville group drew from the history of Michael Reese Hospital, founded by the Chicago Jewish community but always dedicated to serving all.

“While the site has a rich history . . . it has become a blank canvas . . . ready to give back to Chicago once again,” the Bronzeville group said.

In its bid, Columbia University looks at how the library could help spark development adjacent to the its Harlem site.

Chicago State University, with two locations at its campus at 95th and King, also devoted much of its bid to how the library could revive its area.

The University of Chicago’s bid — which was not disclosed publically — reflected that the school stands ready to partner with Hawaii. While Hawaii is making a bid for the library and museum on an oceanfront site in Honolulu, its fallback is a “presidential center.”


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