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Major Flaws Are Threatening Chicago's Obama Library Bids

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Feedback from the Obama Foundation has put Chicago's remaining two bids under increased scrutiny and unnerved supporters, according to Crain's. "Major concerns" about issues of land ownership are spoiling assumptions of the South Side's frontrunner status. Though no official statement outlining any grievances has been made, sources within the Obama Foundation have quietly said they want a streamlined bid where the city owns the land outright. Unlike competitor Columbia University, which already owns all the property targeted in its proposal for the library, the University of Chicago has always pushed a plan that would incorporate park district land. Mayoral aide David Spielfogel said the city is moving fast to make the park district-owned property in question available for the library foundation, with a clause that it would revert to park district control if the U of C isn't selected.

UIC's plans, while considered more of a longshot, are also in the crosshairs due to some "uncertainty" expected from upcoming leadership changes, including a new chancellor and board chairman. It's assumed these organizational changes at the public institution may complicate the implementation of ambitious proposals to reshape neighborhoods such as North Lawndale.

As Whet Moser pointed out, the ultimate irony here is that the University of Chicago's somewhat strained relationship with surrounding neighborhoods, and a reputation for being "a bastion of white political power" ... and "a huge entity that doesn't take into account the interests of the community," both complicate current property purchases and played a part in inspiring the community organizing legacy that attracted Obama to the South Side in the first place. The university's recent secretive acquisition of land in Washington Park, for instance, earned heat from neighborhood groups, who called the practice "land banking."

Next steps present a challenge for the Chicago bids. To add to the complications, the Friends of the Parks, a non-profit battling the Lucas Museum over land use issues, sent a letter to the Obamas this week saying it wouldn't support the use of and park land for the project, throwing a wrench in the city's plan to provide park district land to the University of Chicago. In addition, the chair of Chicago Park District, Bryan Traubert, is the husband of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, who has connections to members of the Obama Foundation board. These fast-moving developments put increased pressure on Chicago to shape up before the final site is selected early next year.

·To Get the Obama Library, Chicago Needs the Help of Community Organizers [Chicago Magazine]
·Obama library officials dissatisfied with Chicago's two bids [Tribune]
·Previous Obama Library coverage [Curbed]