The presidential library, which is typically in the president’s home state, could end up in New York City.
Obama’s political career kicked off and blossomed in Chicago, where he was a senator before running for president. His wife, first lady Michelle Obama, was born there, and he began to raise his family there as well.
It is unclear to Susan Sher, the first lady’s former chief of staff, whether the family will retire to Chicago or New York City at the end of Obama’s term.
Despite his established connection to Chicago, the city is well behind New York City in preparing for the building of the library.
Sher, senior adviser to University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, said that the main competitors for the library are the University of Chicago, Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Hawaii, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“It’s not a done deal by any means,” Sher told The Chicago Tribune editorial board on Wednesday. “But I will say an advantage [Columbia University has], which is fortunate for them, (is that) for other purposes they have already identified, cleared and gone through all the public processes required … So it’s done.”
Columbia University, where Obama earned his bachelor’s degree in 1983, has proposed that the library should be the cornerstone of its $6.3 billion expansion project. The project would be in the predominantly Black community of West Harlem, The Tribune reports.
Columbia University has already negotiated the land acquisition, zoning and state and local approvals, according to city and court documents. The documents also show that the university has committed $76 million specifically for the West Harlem community, where the library would be built.
On the other hand, U. of C. has three possible sites in low-income Black neighborhoods on the mid-South Side. The university had been acquiring land in the Washington Park neighborhood, one of the proposed sites, since 2008. Sher said that even though there was development in the area, there’s still 270 acres of vacant land available.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports both the U. of C. and UIC bids. He pledged to expedite any land conveyance ordinances through the City Council at minimal cost.
Two other potential sites in Chicago would require acquisition of parkland.
Opposition to using parkland may lead to a lawsuit like it did against the plans to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art on the lakefront south of downtown, according to The Tribune.
Carol Adams, president and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History, located in Washington Park, says that the presidential library should be in Chicago over New York because it’s where the Obama presidency was born.
“This is where he came of age politically to be able to do that run. That is what we reference to when we say, ‘Bring it on home,'” Adams told The Tribune.