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Exclusive details: Bid for Obama Library on Lake Michigan shore
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Exclusive details: Bid for Obama Library on Lake Michigan shore

Posted on Sat, Jul 5, 2014

Among the rival locations in Chicago for the Obama library and museum, the most majestic one hugs the Lake Michigan shore on the Southeast Side with a stunning view of the Chicago skyline.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Among the rival locations in Chicago for the Obama library and museum, the most majestic one hugs the Lake Michigan shore on the Southeast Side with a stunning view of the Chicago skyline.

More than pretty, the Chicago Lakeside site has vast potential to trigger massive related economic growth and create jobs in an often ignored part of the city. With a presidential library and museum as an anchor, large-scale private investment that otherwise might take a generation to occur could happen in a decade.

“It is the most incredibly beautiful site in the city of Chicago,” developer Dan McCaffery is telling me as we discuss the bid for the library and museum he submitted to the Barack Obama Foundation last month. We’re talking in the suburban Washington office of his Chicago-based firm, where I had an exclusive look at the bid.

McCaffery, in a partnership with U.S. Steel, is offering the foundation free land: a prime location near 79th and the lake, the eastern-most point of the 589-acre Chicago Lakeside project.

These vacant acres were once the home of the razed U.S. Steel South Works, which closed in April 1992. The adjacent neighborhoods are where Obama once worked as a community organizer.

McCaffery uses the circle metaphor in talking about his bid, as in Obama coming full circle, building his presidential library near where he started his career.

The bid book, which includes an iPad loaded with a video about the site, has a steel ring embedded in the blue cover.

That circle is an “O,” of course, for Obama. But the ring also symbolize the steel-making roots of the site, the era when South Works was a mighty economic force, McCaffery reminds me.


The cover of the bid proposal features a steel ring


That land can once again be part of the Chicago economy and with the Obama library, it can happen sooner than later, McCaffery is telling me.  An Obama library in Lakeside can be, he said, a “case study for global community development.”

A rendering of a library and museum at the site by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill shows a distinctive modernist structure jutting out over the lake with a pedestrian walkway leading to the roof.

The Chicago-based Obama foundation is analyzing proposals from seven major bidders — five from Chicago, including McCaffery — and one each in New York City and Honolulu, Hawaii.

McCaffery has been working on the Lakeside project since 2004. The city has granted zoning for 17 million square feet of commercial space plus 15,000 residential units. The master plan includes city parks and a 1,100-slip marina. In October, an extension of Lake Shore Drive was completed, running through Lakeside to 87th Street.

No matter where the library is located, certain amounts of economic activity will take place. The library and museum will create temporary and permanent jobs during and after construction. The facility will employ workers who will spend money locally. The institution will buy goods and services from area vendors. Tourists will generate hotel and restaurant business, both around the library and downtown.

The Obama foundation is looking to maximize the economic power of the library. Demonstrating how the library can be an “economic engine” for the surrounding area — by attracting public and private investments — is a key requirement for the bidders.

“By helping to create a desirable destination, the Barack Obama Library will anchor Lakeside,” the bid states. “Its development will create 98,000 temporary jobs and more than 42,000 retail, commercial, office and institutional jobs for South Side residents.

“This visionary new neighborhood will bolster economic development on the South Side, encouraging revitalization of residential neighborhoods in South Chicago, South Shore and others, as well as supporting growth in key commercial corridors along nearby 79th Street, Commercial Avenue and 91st Street,” the bid said.

McCaffery, in our interview, said at present the project has a time frame of about 40 years, what he called the “snail pace” of real estate development. He estimated that with the library as a catalyst for private investment, the timetable would shrink to 10 or 15 years.

While Lakeside is the blank canvass, older neighborhoods to the west contain empty lots and underused land. The library “will make these parcels viable for redevelopment and further support the Barack Obama Foundation’s mission to be an integral part of the surrounding community,” the bid said.

Earlier, McCaffery tried to forge a partnership with the University of Chicago in order to bolster prospects for the Lakeside site.

But the university instead submitted a bid focusing on three sites near its Hyde Park campus: around the Hyde Park High School, at 6220 S. Stony Island; the area near 55th and King Drive; and the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore.

Back to the drawing board, the McCaffery team found a solution. The bid argues that the better way for the foundation to go is to locate the library on academically neutral ground.

“A great benefit of Lakeside is the opportunity for synergistic, multi-lateral organizations to align themselves with the library and create a campus that embodies the visions and goals of the Foundation,” the bid proposed.

That way, there is the “potential for an open and inclusive platform” of a variety of Chicago-area schools, with bid rivals U. of C., Chicago State University and the University of Illinois-Chicago specifically mentioned.

McCaffery told me “we will donate more land” for the research or academic campus near the library, as an incentive to lure universities wanting to establish a Chicago outpost to run programs with curriculum ties to the library or other collaborations.


Developer Dan McCaffery with his bid proposal for the Obama library


There is also a plan in the bid to showcase Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, her signature anti-obesity and healthy eating and exercise drive. Chicago Lakeside proposes a “public park focused on food and fitness” south of the library site.

“Perhaps visitors could visit the Library, tour the farm ... and stop by the year-round farmers market, all while learning about aquaponics and compost. ... Put simply, the library could provide a global platform for urban food innovation,” the bid states.

The Lakeside bid also has a focus on helping low-income residents of the 7th and 10th wards. “Lakeside understands the need to create affordable housing choices for existing residents and also market-rate housing to create a successful true mixed income community,” the bid said.

The foundation will announce a short list of finalists in mid-September and they will be asked to respond to a very detailed request for proposal. A decision is targeted for early next year. McCaffery has to make that first cut.

Handicapping the competition so far: Don’t count Lakeside out because at present there is no deal with U. of C., the frontrunner.

After all, this election only has two voters: The choice is up to the president and first lady, a South Side native.

Michelle Obama may relish having so much land available to replicate and expand her famed White House garden. Each year she invites local elementary students to the White House to join her in plantings and harvests, and she could build entire programs at the library around these events.

The other Chicago sites, including the old Michael Reese hospital, are hemmed in to various degrees. The Friends of the Parks told me they would sue if the Chicago Park District was asked to give up South Shore or land in other parks.

If the first couple want Lakeside in the mix, U. of C. — about four miles from Lakeside — would be hard-pressed to justify not mustering the interest.

Lakeside is higher risk, but comes with more reward: to build an Obamaville from scratch, a high-tech, green model community.

What happens in Lakeside is important to the future of the city. It is the largest piece of empty land left in Chicago


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