The Barack Obama Foundation is considering two sites on the South Side of Chicago for the Barack Obama Presidential Center in the Washington Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods. Locating the presidential center in either Washington Park or Woodlawn would drive major investment on the South Side, creating new businesses and resources for residents and visitors. The presidential center offers a rare chance to reinvigorate the economy of nearby communities and make improvements for the area’s infrastructure and parks.
Washington Park Site
One potential site includes the western edge of Washington Park. The portion of the site in parkland would be bordered by Martin Luther King Jr. Drive on the west, Ellsworth Drive on the east, Garfield Boulevard on the south, and 51st Street on the north. In addition to this section of the park, the proposed site would encompass a block of land across MLK Drive currently owned by the University of Chicago, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Transit Authority.
The Washington Park site represents an outstanding opportunity to spur economic development. Real estate in the Washington Park neighborhood provides abundant opportunities for new and expanded commercial, retail, residential, and hospitality facilities without displacing existing residents. There could be additional development on MLK Drive as well as increased residential development throughout the neighborhood.
Woodlawn/Jackson Park Site
The other potential site is located in Jackson Park along Stony Island Avenue, part of the Woodlawn neighborhood. The site would be bordered by Stony Island Avenue on the west, Cornell Avenue on the east, 60th Street on the north, and 63rd Street on the South.
The Woodlawn neighborhood also has the potential for an economic boom. The presidential center could catalyze this development and support a range of opportunities, including commercial investment and new educational facilities along Stony Island Avenue and 63rd Street.
Site Selection Criteria and Collaboration
The collaborative process that led to selection of these sites included meetings with dozens of local organizations, elected officials, city agency representatives, and preliminary conversations with the Barack Obama Foundation. Out of numerous potential sites, the University’s collaborators and the foundation indicated that locations including South Side parkland offered the best chance to fulfill important goals for the presidential center. The sites would not displace local residents and would be highly accessible for Chicagoans and visitors from all over the world. The project sought communities that could receive transformative benefits from the library as an economic engine.
Many community residents said using parkland for the project offers a chance to catalyze new investments for underutilized South Side parks. The improvements include enhanced access for pedestrians and cyclists, renovation or replacement of aging facilities, and other attractions such as urban farms.
In January Mayor Emanuel introduced an ordinance at City Council co-sponsored by 42 aldermen to transfer parkland to the City for the Library. On February 11 the Chicago Park District board voted unanimously to transfer the land in either Jackson Park or Washington Park to the City, which would then lease it to the Obama Foundation if either site is chosen by the President and First Lady for the presidential center. On March 18, the City Council voted unanimously to approve the land transfer of the parkland to the City.
Park Positive Plan
The University of Chicago recommends that the final plan for the presidential center should be park-positive—in other words, the community should gain access to more usable parkland from this process than the presidential library would occupy. Mayor Emanuel has committed to replacing with new public green space the five or so acres of park on which the library building would sit.
The proposed sites would consist mostly of open space. In all, the sites would comprise about 21 acres in Jackson Park and 22 acres in Washington Park, with 11 additional acres owned by the University of Chicago and city entities near the Washington Park site. This would create a relatively small footprint for a presidential library. America's last three presidential libraries have an average of 50 acres each.
A study by Anderson Economic Group, commissioned by the University of Chicago, found that the library would be an “economic boon” for the area. The library’s estimated annual impact would be at least $220 million, including about 1,900 permanent jobs and 3,280 construction jobs. The report estimated that the library would attract about 800,000 visitors annually and that these visitors would spend $31 million annually in the neighborhood near the site, supporting 41 new restaurants and retail outlets. The impact will extend beyond the neighborhood surrounding the library, enhancing the entire mid-South Side through new resources, deeper transit and pedestrian connections, and area-wide programming for residents.