Why the Obama Library Should be at CSU

Hermene Hartman at N'Digo outlines why CSU would be the best home for the Obama Library in her most recent editorial column:
The full text of the article is below:  
The first step of the Barack Obama Presidential Library sweepstakes is complete.

Monday, June 16, was the deadline for all interested parties who want to host the library to submit initial bids as to where they would put it, how it would serve as an economic engine in the suggested location, and how local organizations would work in partnership with host organizations.

The first part – who wants it – was easy. Everybody wants to benefit from the chunk of change and enormous prestige that will come from sponsoring the library of America’s first African-American president.

As far as the economics, a University of Chicago-commissioned study shows that if the library lands on the South Side, Chicago annually would see a $220 million economic impact primarily because of increased tourism. About 1,900 permanent jobs would be created that would generate wage earnings of $56 million.

The city would see at least 800,000 visitors at the library each year and they would spend $31 million on food and retail nearby. That would be enough to support 30 new restaurants, 11 retail outlets, a new hotel, and mean an additional $110 million for Chicago that would not have been spent at all without the library.

The construction would make a $600 million economic impact, create almost 4,000 jobs and produce $156 million in wages paid over the course of the building. The facility alone would cost $380 million and a myriad of associated taxes would add $5 million annually to Chicago’s coffers.

The study suggests that Obama’s library would receive twice the number of visitors as Ronald Reagan’s, which is currently the most visited presidential library.

Location, Location

With those kinds of numbers involved, it’s no wonder that prominent groups from everywhere Obama has spent significant stretches of his life have jumped into the bidding process, which is more complicated than decisions about other presidential libraries have been in the past.

Most of those have been built in the state –practically all in the very city – that the particular president came from. The two Bush’s and Lyndon Johnson’s libraries are in Texas; Reagan’s in Simi Valley, California; Bill Clinton’s in Little Rock, Arkansas; Jimmy Carter’s in Atlanta, Georgia; John Kennedy’s in Boston, Massachusetts – places readily identifiable with those presidents.

But Obama was a vagabond of sorts: born and raised in Hawaii; higher educated in New York; married, worked, community-organized, and began his political career in Chicago – so all three of those locations are claiming him as its native son with hopes of luring the library to their site.

At the close of business for the first set of proposals on Monday, prospective hosts from Chicago, New York and Hawaii offered bids listing 13 potential sites for the coveted library.

Sticking Point: Involving The Neighbors

The parts of the bid request that are trickier for potential hosts to navigate involve projecting how the library is going to be an economic engine for its location and how local organizations will fit in. In other words, the bid is asking – how about finding an area that could use an economic boost…and involve Black folks in the planning?

Trying to address those considerations has made for some strange bedfellows. New York’s Columbia University in its bid, for instance, said, hey, let’s put it in Harlem.

The University of Illinois/Chicago bid three spots, including the “real” West Side around the North Lawndale area, partnered with a group called the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee, and sent a group of its “diverse” students to Washington D.C. on Monday to meet with some of the Obama Library Foundation staffers, though that was not required in the bid.

The developer of the former U.S. Steel site at 79th and Lake Michigan, who is trying to build a whole new $4 billion city there over the next three decades, wants the library to spiff up the far east South Shore community

A Bronzeville group wants to put it at the site of the old abandoned Michael Reese Hospital at 29th and Ellis. Great location near McCormick Place and the expansion of McCormick will make it a hot tourism spot.

The University of Chicago, in its unending quest for South Side land annexation, has offered several sites, including next to the South Shore Cultural Center at the other end of the lagging South Shore community. Its bid also includes vacant lots near the Green Line trains at 55th and King Drive, and on Stony Island near Hyde Park High School.

The hypocrisy of some of these groups now making nice with and acknowledging their nearby minority neighbors and community organizations borders on audacity. Can you remember any previous efforts they’ve shown to economically revitalize surrounding communities that they have no real estate or other investments in?

And The Winner Might Be…

The next step in making the Obama Presidential Library a reality is for the foundation and the Obama family to decide which bids advance, which should take a couple of months, and then indications are that a finalist will be picked early in 2015, so that money-raising plans and such can get underway.

More than likely, the library will land in Chicago, with the Illinois General Assembly ready to commit $100 million of seed money to the project, and Honolulu preparing an oceanfront presidential center, whether it gets the library or not. New York is considered a very long shot.

A reality check and probably Las Vegas odds makers would tell you that the well-endowed University of Chicago will more than likely win the bid.

Not to say the fix is in, but…Barack lectured at U of C before he became president and Michelle worked at the hospital before she became First Lady. Valerie Jarrett and other Obama cohorts have sat on the university’s board, or worked there, like Barack pal Eric Whitaker. And the Obama daughters, as well as pal Mayor Emanuel’s children, attended the University of Chicago Lab School.

The Obamas have a residence in Hyde Park, in the district that Barack represented in the Illinois State Senate. Leading the university’s bid for the library is Susan Sher, former White House chief of staff to Michelle Obama and now senior advisor to U of C President Robert Zimmer.

Nearly all indicators point to the University of Chicago because it satisfies a lot of issues and who wouldn’t take that bet? Even though the U of C could economically revive the sites it’s proposing single-handedly without winning the library bid – if it wanted to.  (Just like the University of Illinois could put a charge in North Lawndale’s economy without the Obama Library…if it wanted to.)

The Obama Complex At Chicago State

I have publicly argued that Chicago State University (CSU) is the best place for the library because it is in the neighborhood where Obama started his “community organizing” work on the South Side in the Roseland area.

If the purpose of community organizing is to develop a neighborhood, what greater gift of development could Obama give to his old community than plopping a presidential library down in its midst?  It would serve the constituency that Obama directly worked with and add to the library’s historical significance.

Chicago State in 2006 created The Illinois African American Legislative Archival, which recognizes and memorializes the state’s Black legislators. It begins with the “Republican Era” from 1877 to 1943 and continues with the “Democratic Era” from 1943 to the present.

The Archival is one of the most advanced in the world, with robotic functions, and goes beyond honoring the legislators to also house the papers from one of America’s first African-American hospitals – Provident. The Obama Library would be a logical extension to the Archival.

The Obama Library at CSU would be politically and historically correct. This state school – compared to the privately owned University of Chicago, and there is a difference – graduates 60 percent of all African Americans receiving a bachelor’s degree in Chicago. So the Obama mission is fulfilled nicely.

Another primary reason the Obama Library should be located at Chicago State is to honor former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, Barack’s political godfather. And indeed he was. Without Emil Jones, there would never have been a President Barack Obama.

Emil jumpstarted Obama’s national political career.  As an Illinois state senator, Barack told Jones that he had the power to make a United States Senator. Jones said, “Really?” and asked who might that be. Barack said, “me.” Against all political odds, Emil went to work to advance and network Barack Obama and took him under his legislative wing in the Illinois General Assembly, to the consternation of other Black legislators. The rest is history.

Chicago State University was Jones’ pet legislative project.  He made darn sure that when other Illinois universities got hefty state appropriations, Chicago State would get its own piece of the pie.  No one had done that before him and no one fought as hard to build that school.

CSU was the only state university that did not have a Convocation Center, and Emil made sure to get the legislative funding to make that happen.  Now the Convocation building on the campus is named after Emil Jones and his late wife, Patricia.

However, since Barack became president, Emil Jones has been all but forgotten by the Obamas.  The political thought suggested that President Obama would have made Jones an ambassador to Jamaica or perhaps the Bahamas.  And as a master of consensus politics, Jones certainly could have helped his protégé navigate the gridlocked Congress that Obama has been unable to overcome for most of his time in office, yet Jones has never been given a call.

The Obama Library would bring significant uplift to the economically depressed, long neglected South Side community where CSU is located, near 95th and King Drive, with an immediate uptick of real estate and retail investment.

Chicago State submitted a bid for two locations on its campus. One site would have a Metra Electric station directly within the library building. The Dan Ryan Red Line extension project would also add a station on the campus. Having the library at CSU would hasten the development of both projects. The 95th Street Red Line Station is due for a remodeling upgrade and is already one of the most used stations in the city.  It is where the politicians meet and greet and shake hands with Black people when running for office.

A Big Idea

Now, here’s my latest addition to the library scenario that will heighten the already significant economic impact of the new institution:

Why not include the proposed Obama High School with the Obama Presidential Library, making it the Obama Complex, and put them both on the Chicago State University campus?

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed a college prep Obama High School on the Near North Side that is about four blocks from the Walter Payton School and also near the North Side Prep School. All of these high schools are selective institutions and will primarily serve White, North Side students.

Those three high schools in such close proximity would provide a cluster of selective enrollment schools that does not reflect the geographic makeup of Chicago’s student population.

The site that has been proposed for the $60 million institution – the old Cabrini-Green housing development land – is being discussed as too small and other sites are currently being considered.

The South Side of the city is the natural habitat for the Obama High School. The South Side lost a massive number of schools in Mayor Emanuel’s historic closing of 50 schools last year – so why not build a new world-class school in the area where the old schools were closed.

This would be an educational boon alongside the economic boon that is so necessary for the development of the South Side.

The Obama Library won’t be built for several years after the president leaves office, but the location is being decided now. The location of the Obama High School is being decided now.

I am hoping that the decision makers – including you, Barack – will see the logic of the Obama Complex that would combine the school and the library on the grounds of Chicago State University.

I am hoping the citizens of Chicago, from teachers to students, will make an appeal to the powers that be regarding the school and its South Side location.

This single effort would be a statement that City Hall recognizes the South Side as an equal part of the city – closing the North Side-South Side economic gap – and allowing the Obama legacy to live where it began and for those who could benefit from it the most.