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Old Posted Apr 5, 2014, 4:06 PM
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Obama library can generate hope and change

A number of neighborhoods could benefit from institution, but they need to bring something to the game

By Dahleen Glanton and Melissa Harris, Tribune reporters

6:50 a.m. CDT, April 5, 2014

For people who don't live in the South Side neighborhood of Washington Park, there is hardly a reason to take the CTA's Green Line to the Garfield station.

Though barely a mile from the stately University of Chicago campus, the desolate block of East Garfield Boulevard between Martin Luther King Drive and Prairie Avenue has little to offer, mostly one shuttered storefront after another and remnants of broken signage from businesses that once beckoned customers.

But it's possible that the landscape could change. Washington Park residents are pinning their hopes on President Barack Obama — that he will select the U. of C. to host his presidential library and that the university will build it on the swath of vacant, city-owned land adjacent to the "L."........

None of the 13 presidential libraries and museums administered by the National Archives and Records Administration has been built in a low-income, inner-city neighborhood. So the challenge of using a presidential library as an economic engine to overhaul a neighborhood that suffers from long-term disinvestment is untested, according to library experts.......

"It's a noble thought to say, 'We're going to use the presidential library as a vehicle to rehabilitate an area.' But in doing that, you have to make sure you don't damage the library as a whole and end up not helping anyone," he said.........

In Bronzeville, just south of McCormick Place, residents want the library built on the site of the former Michael Reese Hospital, a 48-acre property owned by the city. Chicago developer Dan McCaffery wants the library to anchor his $4 billion retail and residential development planned on the old U.S. Steel South Works site in southeast Chicago. The University of Illinois at Chicago is looking at six sites on the Near West Side to offer for the library. Chicago State University has identified two potential sites on its South Side campus, and a third site in the Pullman Historic District, which is being proposed as a national park.........

The University of Chicago has brought together a coalition of South Side residents, including Adams, to serve as advisers for its library proposal. In addition to Washington Park, there is land farther south in Woodlawn and South Shore as well as on the Near South Side near Roosevelt Road that could accommodate a library.

University officials have not indicated a preference for a specific site but have said that if they are awarded the project, they prefer to build it "in the heart of the South Side," near their Hyde Park campus. The university will not choose a specific site but will leave that up to Obama and the first lady.

"Our view is that we very much want the Obama library on the mid-South Side. In any event, Hyde Park is landlocked, so it would have to be somewhere in the surrounding area," said Susan Sher, senior adviser to U. of C. President Robert Zimmer and coordinator of its library effort. "We won't offer a site in our proposal. If we are more open to possibilities, it could increase our chances. It shows we're flexible.........

Sher confirmed that the city-owned property in Washington Park is among several potential sites the university has looked at on the South Side. The university owns an adjacent lot that currently holds a gas station as well as a strip of mostly vacant 1920s-era storefronts on East Garfield. Last year the university opened the Arts Incubator — studio space for artists-in-residence — in one of the newly rehabbed storefronts............"
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