Chicago City Council unanimously approves South Side park plan for Obama Presidential Library

The Chicago City Council has unanimously approved a measure to make a section of Jackson Park or Washington Park available for the Obama Presidential Library, providing important support for the University of Chicago-led proposal to bring the presidential library to the South Side.


The 47-0 vote on March 18 followed a public process that included public hearings with thousands of community members who gave more than 10 hours of testimony on the proposal. Now that the Chicago Park District and Chicago City Council have approved the plan, there are no additional legislative hurdles before the Barack Obama Foundation announces a decision on the library.

“This is great news for the South Side,” said Susan Sher, senior adviser to University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer. “This is an important step in making our bid as competitive as possible, and it is the culmination of an extensive community-based process. If we are fortunate in being the successful bidder, there will be much more input from our community and further community-based processes.”

Sher added that the council’s unanimous vote “sends a powerful message” about the city’s commitment to bringing the presidential library to Chicago. The University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago and city leaders held a unity breakfast with community members on March 16 to emphasize their common goal of bringing the library to Chicago, regardless of what site the Foundation chooses. In addition to the South Side proposal, the Barack Obama Foundation is considering finalist bids from UIC, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii.

The South Side proposal for the presidential library includes two potential sites—one in Jackson Park, adjacent to the Woodlawn neighborhood, and another that includes part of Washington Park in addition to land owned by the University and city entities. Library buildings in either park would be limited to five acres under the City Council ordinance—about one percent or less of the total acreage in either park. If the South Side is chosen, the University anticipates that site selection and detailed plans for a facility will be the subject of additional public processes and meetings involving the Foundation, the University and nearby communities. Prior to the full council vote, the park proposal had been considered and approved by the Chicago Park District, the Chicago Plan Commission and multiple committees of the City Council.

Many aldermen cited the library’s estimated economic impact as they voted to support the proposal. A UChicago-commissioned study concluded that it would create about 1,900 permanent jobs, with $220 million in annual impact for the city. Construction alone likely would bring about $600 million in economic impact.

But they also looked to the historic opportunity of the library to tell the inspirational story of how the first African American president emerged from the South Side of Chicago.

“It’s clear what the economic opportunities are, it’s clear what the job opportunities are, but we will never be able to quantify the dreams and aspirations” that the library could inspire in young people, said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.