Everybody had a happy face at the Obama Library site debut


The setting of the Obama Presidential Center site debut - DEANNA ISAACS
  • Deanna Isaacs
  • The setting of the Obama Presidential Center site debut

Everyone made nice at today’s formal announcement for Jackson Park as the location of the Obama presidential library.

Since the site selection leaked last week (and had already been widely reported) the event, held on a blistering-hot terrace on the south side of the Museum of Science and Industry, was billed as a "Press Conference to Discuss Site Selection for the Obama Presidential Center."

There wasn't much discussion—just a series of short speeches.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel was there, along with Obama Foundation chairman Marty Nesbitt. So were the City Council members who represent the two neighborhoods that had been vying for the project: Leslie Hairston, of the victorious Fifth Ward, and Pat Dowell, of the Third, which includes runner-up Washington Park.

This is the second recent loss of a world-class development project for Washington Park, which was also expected to be a prominent site for the ill-fated Chicago Olympics. But if anybody was disappointed, it wasn't showing. One speech after another emphasized the benefits the Obama center will bring to the south side and the entire city.

Nesbitt, observing that this will be the first presidential library located "in an urban community," said that Jackson Park and Washington Park "were conceived" as one. He declared that the library will be "engaged" with both neighborhoods.

Mayor Emanuel said he's just glad the project is "here, in the city of Chicago," and predicted that it will bring many visitors as well as jobs and economic growth to the south side.

Alderman Dowell said "Washington Park intends to ride the wave of opportunity" the presidential library delivers, and Hairston noted that the two parks are connected (by Midway Plaisance). "This is the hope that we want and the change that we need," Hairston said.

Nesbitt expects it will take between 12 and 18 months to work out the architecture. He said the center won't open until "sometime in 2021." But we won't have to wait that long to begin to see its impact, he promised. The center is "more than a building," he said. "It's an idea and a cause.” He also remarked that part of the center will be active by early next year.

Behind the podium, waves rippled on the surface of the lagoon, ducklings bobbed, and, across the water, the calm green expanse of Jackson Park awaited its much-anticipated new occupant.

  • Deanna Isaacs

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