- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) - Hundreds of people attended an emotional hearing Tuesday on a University of Chicago proposal to build President Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum on public parkland, a move many believe could help the city secure the project but that others say would unnecessarily chip away at urban open space.

The Chicago Park District must decide whether to transfer about 20 acres in one of two historic parks to city control. Park officials have said that was the preference of Obama library officials, who were disappointed when the university submitted a proposal for building the library and museum on parkland that it did not own and had no immediate path to acquire.

Under consideration are Jackson Park, site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, and Washington Park, a national historic site. Both have hundreds of acres and were designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

Supporters, met by loud cheers and some boos, said the project would be a boon for the South Side, home to the university, the Obamas, the Museum of Science and Industry and other cultural attractions. They said carving out a small portion in either park would not detract from open space and could help secure the library for Chicago.

The University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii have also submitted proposals.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” said Jeremy Pollard, a 44-year-old home care worker. “I think it would just bring this neighborhood back to life. It would bring in a lot more people, and there would be a lot more educational opportunities for children and adults.”

Opponents say relinquishing parkland sets a dangerous precedent, and the university could either use its own land or find other sites to redevelop.

The influential group Friends of the Parks sent Obama and his wife a letter asking them to build the library and museum in Chicago, but to look land other than in a park, which they called “non-renewable resources and our city’s greatest natural assets.”

Val Cavin, who lives on the lower West Side, said the city already owns plenty of vacant land, including a 23-acre site near her neighborhood that is part of the competing UIC bid.

“I’m concerned that people have written off UIC’s bid,” said Cavin.

The park district has another public hearing scheduled for Wednesday. The Obamas are expected to make a decision on the location by March.

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