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Chicago Tries To Up Its Chances Of Hosting Obama's Presidential Library


As much as President Obama rejects lame duck status, here is one reminder that his time in office is growing short - we're going to find out soon where his presidential library will be located. Chicago desperately wants the library, but it is no sure thing and there's a problem with one of the bids. NPR's Cheryl Corley has more.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: The University of Chicago, where the president and the first lady once worked, wants the Obama library to be located in one of two parks on Chicago's South Side. But the Chicago Park District owns that land and not the city. The foundation overseeing the competition says that's a problem. So Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who says he'd move heaven and earth to land the library, decided to step in.


MAYOR RAHM EMANUEL: This is a once-in-a-lifetime educational, cultural, but economic and job effect that would be unprecedented, and I will not let this opportunity slip through Chicago's fingers and allow New York to outdo us in getting the president's library.

CORLEY: Columbia University in New York City, where President Obama went to school, wants to locate the library on its campus in West Harlem. Yesterday at a Chicago City Council meeting, Mayor Emanuel offered an ordinance that calls for the Park District to transfer about 20 acres of land to the city, five to be used for the library, the rest, green space. The foundation isn't the only group though that's concerned about the Park District land. So are park preservationists. They think the University of Chicago should find land for an Obama library outside of the parks.

At City Hall, Chicago alderman Pat Dowell says there are provisions in the ordinance that address the concerns of the preservationists.

PAT DOWELL: The parkland that would be taken for the library will be replaced elsewhere, and that will be open space that's available for the community.

CORLEY: It will take a vote of the Park District Board and the Chicago City Council to seal the deal. Chicago alderman Will Burns, like Mayor Emanuel, says winning the Obama library is an economic opportunity that can't be missed.

WILL BURNS: I think people will want to come to his presidential library for years to come to learn about him, to learn about his legacy, to show their children. And I think it'll be a world class amenity on the South Side of Chicago.

CORLEY: The University of Illinois at Chicago hopes to locate the Obama library on the city's West Side. It resolved concerns the foundation had with its bid on its own. The University of Hawaii, also in the running, has an oceanfront site in Honolulu it hopes the Obamas will choose. A decision is expected to be made by the end of March.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.