Thursday, January 1, 2015

Will Obama library/museum wind up like ’16 summer Olympic games?

We’re in a brand-new year. A fresh start for everything, or so they say.

But for some things, we’re just going to continue on with the old trends.

TAKE THE PROPOSED presidential library and museum that will someday be built to pay tribute to the legacy of President Barack Obama. Word came out this week that the facility may well wind up being built in New York City, rather than at either of the two sites proposed for the South or West sides of Chicago.

News reports indicated that the foundation created by Obama to pick a site, then develop it into an actual facility, has problems with the West Side locations preferred by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

They’re concerned about upcoming changes in university administration and whether the new officials will remain as committed to the project as the current ones. There’s also the fact that as a state university, any funding it provided for a library would be subject to the whims and financial problems faced by the state.

Could a future Republican administration decide it wants to play politics with Obama’s image by cutting off such a library? Petty politicking is always a real possibility.

THERE ALSO ARE the proposals for three sites on the South Side near the University of Chicago, which as it turns out are parcels of land not actually owned by the university.

The Chicago Park District owns the plots of land, and the Chicago Sun-Times reported foundation officials wonder if the university has any right to provide land they don’t actually own.

City officials backing the South Side sites believe they can offer the park district other plots of land in an exchange. But those people who back the park district often get finicky when it comes to alternate use of their land.

Just look at the stink that has developed over the possible building on the lakefront of a new museum connected to filmmaker George Lucas. That battle is in the courts, and I don’t doubt the park activist types would have no problem in adding an Obama museum to their list of gripes.

IT WAS INTERESTING to learn from Crain’s Chicago Business that city officials working for Mayor Rahm Emanuel are now scrambling to try to alter the South Side proposals to increase the chances that the foundation picks it over the desire of Columbia University officials to have the Obama library on their home turf.

Which I’m sure is going to provoke some speculation that a backroom deal is being concocted by the White House and City Hall. You just know the ideologues will have fun playing with that mental image. Particularly since the Emanuel image would take a serious hit amongst the voters inclined to back his pending re-election bid if he can't deliver an Obama library/museum.

Although when I learned of the possibility that Obama’s Chicago ties (he lived his adult life here and wife Michelle is a South Shore neighborhood native) might not be enough to ensure a presidential library gets built in our city, I couldn’t help but remember the mess that became of the efforts to persuade the International Olympic Committee to locate the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Chicago.

In retrospect, it appears the committee had every intention of locating the games south of the equator, ultimately putting them in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Chicago’s best chance to get the games someday was to use the experience as a learning lesson for a future bid.

BUT I RECALL how everyone was convinced Chicago was the place. It was going to be the crowning glory of Richard M. Daley’s mayoral stint, and there was the possibility of Obama himself being able to visit events played in a temporary stadium to be erected in Washington Park – which isn’t that far of a walk from his Hyde Park neighborhood home that now sits so empty.

I also recall the shock that was felt on the day the site for 2016 was chosen, when Chicago literally became the first site knocked out of contention instead of being the last one standing.

The future Chicago South Side of some peoples’ dreams would have had memories of the Olympics being played here, and of the Obama legacy living on here.

Are we going to have to settle for no games AND the local legacy consisting of memories of how back when he was a nobody like the rest of us, Obama used to enjoy breakfast at the Valois restaurant on 53rd Street?


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