- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance Wednesday aimed at substantially improving the city’s chances of hosting the Obama presidential library and museum by setting aside space for the project in one of two parks on the city’s South Side.

The ordinance would allow the Chicago Park District to transfer about 20 acres of land in either Jackson Park or Washington Park to the city to use for the library. The ordinance, which has the support of nearly the entire city council, would greatly strengthen the University of Chicago’s bid to place the library in one of the nearby parks. The president and first lady both worked at the school and the president launched his community organizer career in that part of Chicago.

After reports that the Barack Obama Foundation, which is overseeing the selection process, expressed reservations about the university’s bid because of the uncertainty about the land, city and school officials quickly moved to address the issue. The foundation is also considering bids from Columbia University in New York, the University of Hawaii and the University of Illinois at Chicago, which wants the library erected on Chicago’s West Side.

“I will not let this opportunity slip through Chicago’s fingers and let New York to outdo us in getting the president’s library,” Emanuel said at a news conference after the meeting. The mayor made several references to New York, signaling that he considers Columbia’s bid to be the most serious threat to Chicago’s chances. Forty-two city council members co-sponsored Emanuel’s proposed ordinance in a clear signal to the foundation that the University of Chicago’s bid has widespread support.

The Chicago Park District held two public hearings last week. While some people urged the city not to allow the parkland to be used for the library, others, including area residents and aldermen, urged the park district to support the land transfer, saying the library would generate hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs for the struggling part of the city. Emanuel said it was obvious from those meetings that there was widespread support for using the parkland for a library in the South Side neighborhoods near the campus.

Although Emanuel has said he would do what he could to help both Chicago bids, the new ordinance would clearly strengthen the University of Chicago’s bid. It would restrict the library building to about five acres, with the remaining land being maintained as parkland. It also calls for the appointment of a committee to identify land that would replace the green space taken by a library, and it would only transfer the land if either park is selected as the library site.

Whether or not the land transfer triggers a lawsuit remains to be seen. But an ordinance that affects parks designed by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted in a city that has a long history of protecting its parkland, observers say a lawsuit is likely if the Obamas select either park to build the library.

The park district will consider the agreement to transfer the land at its Feb. 11 meeting, according to the mayor’s office. Although the city council may not get to vote on the ordinance before the foundation selects the library site, Alderman Will Burns, a vocal supporter of the South Side bid, said he’s confident that the city has shown to the foundation that the ordinance would almost certainly pass easily.

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