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March 4, 2016

Washington Park in the Lead For Obama Library, Advisor Says

Washington Park has the edge over Jackson Park as the site for the Obama Presidential Library, an adviser to the Obama Foundation, Paul Goldberger, said in an interview with architecture website Common Edge published on February 3.

“Just about everybody close to the project is more interested in the Washington Park site than the Jackson Park site,” Goldberger said in the interview. “Washington Park is much more in the nitty-gritty of the city. There’s an elevated transit station, adjacent to it. It’s got all kinds of interesting stuff going on, all kinds of urban potential.”

"The Washington Park site is the more exciting possibility, because it is the less conventionally ‘presidential’ site. Most of the people close to him feel the same way. But not all, so we’ll see," he added.

Goldberger also said that Jackson Park would be a more conventional site because of its “traditional, formal, civic waterfront site” and its proximity to the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Obama Foundation, which is responsible for the design, construction, and fundraising of the library, will meet with seven architecture firms competing to design the library in mid-March. The President and First Lady will meet with the firms shortly thereafter, before the decision on an architect is finalized.

The President and First Lady are leaning toward a modern design plan for the library, he said, adding that they prefer what he called “tailored modernism.”

The list of possible architects includes Adjaye Associates of London, Diller Scofidio + Renfro of New York, John Ronan Architects of Chicago, Renzo Piano Building Workshop of Genova, SHoP Architects of New York, Snøhetta of New York, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects of New York.

Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects designed the Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. The University has commissioned Diller Scofidio + Renfro to design the David M. Rubenstein Forum, a new collaborative facility for conferences, workshops, and lectures to be completed in 2018 at the southeast corner of Woodlawn Avenue and 60th Street.

According to Goldberger, the White House and the Obama Foundation will wait to make a decision on the site for the library until they have settled on an architect.

“A decision was made recently—something I was part of and very much supported—to slow that whole process down, let the architect selection process get completed, and let whichever architect is chosen be part of the process of finalizing the site choice. So the whole site issue, for now, is kind of on the back burner,” he said.

He added that the foundation is also conducting studies on “environment conditions” as well as other factors that could complicate the debate over the library’s future home.

The Washington Park site would include 22 acres of parkland and 11 acres of land owned by the University of Chicago and the City of Chicago, whereas the Jackson Park site would be smaller at 21 acres of parkland, according to a University News Office overview of the library.

Investors are moving to buy real estate in Washington Park, hoping that the library would boost the real estate market if built in the neighborhood. Icarus Investment Group has bought about 100 condominiums in Washington Park over the past four years, its chief operating officer said in an article in Chicago Real Estate Daily.

A 55,000-square-foot building, located at 5120 South King Drive, across the street from Washington Park, is attracting interest from hotels hoping to move in next to the library, the building’s realtor, Ebonie Caldwell, told the Hyde Park Herald. The property is listed for $13.5 million.

“There are a couple big hotels that are interested,” Caldwell said in the article. “But the calls are not coming from Chicago, they’re coming from out of state.”

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