An enthusiastic crowd of more than 1,000 gathered in Hyde Park last night to debate the University of Chicago's updated bid for the Obama Presidential Library. Held at the Hyde Park Academy High School's auditorium, the public hearing revolved around the question of whether sacrificing approximately 20 acres of prime parkland designed by Frederick Law Olmsted was a fair price to pay for the promised economic and civic benefits of the Obama Presidential Library. The Park District Board of Commissioners, who would eventually need to vote on the proposed land transfer, called the meeting, as well as another scheduled for today, to gauge public opinion.
The Tribune reported that Lauren Moltz, board chair of Friends of the Parks, which opposed including parkland in the bid, "drew little support" when she spoke, while many locals and community leaders voiced support for the University's plans or variations that would use require less parkland. Some expressed some frustration at hearing people who don't live in the neighborhood suggest what's best for the area. The conversation continues today at noon at another hearing taking place at the Washington Park field house (5531 South Martin Luther King Drive).
Here are some of the responses and opinions voiced at or about the hearing.
Mayoral candidate and 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti said they shouldn't "open public land for a private institution ... the answer should be a 'no,'" a sharp contrast to Mayor Emanuel, who has gotten personally involved in trying to secure a Chicago site for the library. Candidate Chuy Garcia also opposes the Washington Park plan, and criticized the "land grab" in a statement that compared the move to the Lucas Museum drama going on further north.
Friends of the Parks President Cassandra Francis, not surprisingly, strongly opposes the land transfer, and raised the question of the move's legality, noting it's a "slippery slope" and raises a "dangerous precedent."