The proposal to make parkland available for the Obama Presidential Library has overwhelming support in the South Side communities that would be most affected, with 79 percent of respondents in a new poll saying they favor such a plan.
The telephone poll surveyed 500 registered voters who live near the two South Side locations that the Barack Obama Foundation is considering as finalist sites for the library. One of the sites would include part of Washington Park in addition to land owned by the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago; the other potential site would include a portion of Jackson Park.
The University of Chicago, which is leading the effort to bring the presidential library to the South Side, commissioned the independent polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove Research to perform the survey from Jan. 27 to Feb. 1.
Potential economic benefits from the presidential library are key for supporters of the proposal. More than 90 percent of residents said the library’s potential to draw in 40 new businesses and nearly 2,000 new jobs in the community is important to them, with 81 percent rating the economic impact as “very important.” Similar numbers of respondents cited the presidential library’s impact as a cultural institution honoring the first African American president.
The far-reaching approval echoes the results of a citywide poll that the Chicago Tribune published on January 30, finding that 62 percent of Chicago residents back the plan to include parkland. The new South Side survey suggests that support for the proposal is strongest in the communities that are most affected.
“People across the South Side have a deep desire to see the Obama Presidential Library come here,” said Susan Sher, senior adviser to President Robert J. Zimmer. “We have been working closely with community members who feel passionately about this for more than a year. We are all committed to making it happen and realizing the unprecedented benefits the library would bring to these communities.”
Intensity of support
Support for the South Side proposal is broad and intense. Of the 79 percent who favor the use of parkland, 61 percent of all respondents said they “strongly favor” the plan. The survey polled voters in the four aldermanic wards adjacent to the two sites; approval in each of the four wards is well above 70 percent.
The South Side is competing with three other bids for the presidential library, led by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii. Among the 18 percent of those polled who oppose the use of parkland, fewer than half said their objections were strong enough that they would rather have the facility built in New York or Hawaii.
Local awareness of the presidential library proposal is extremely high, with 85 percent of residents saying they were familiar with the plan. Overall support for building the Obama Presidential Library on the South Side—regardless of a specific site—is also strong, with 84 percent in favor and just 11 percent opposed.
The City of Chicago has begun a public process to make parkland in either Washington Park or Jackson Park available for the presidential library if the Barack Obama Foundation selects the South Side proposal. The city has proposed limiting any library buildings to five acres—about 1 percent of either park. The Chicago Park District’s first public hearings in January on the use of parkland drew more than 2,200 people, with testimonies from dozens of supporters for the South Side proposal.
Any parkland used for the library will remain public property. By law, the presidential library will be owned and operated by the federal government. The University of Chicago will not own any public land or operate the presidential library.
Nearly one-third of residents surveyed said Washington Park and Jackson Park are in need of “major improvements.” People who said they use these parks at least every few weeks are among the strongest supporters of making parkland available for the presidential library—81 percent of high-frequency users of Washington Park back the plan, along with 74 percent of high-frequency Jackson Park users.