WASHINGTON — Barack Obama Foundation board chair Marty Nesbitt said Wednesday the University of Chicago made the right decision to reveal more details about their plans for the Obama presidential library after the foundation reportedly expressed displeasure that the bid planned to build on land the university does not own.
Nesbitt, who is overseeing the bidding process to select a site for the Obama presidential library and is a close personal friend of the president, expressed similar pleasure with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's steps toward a more transparent process.
"We think the University of Chicago's decision to release this information shows that they are moving energetically to engage with the community and put forward the strongest proposal they can, just as UIC has also worked to address any concerns around their proposal," Nesbitt said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. "We also believe Mayor Emanuel's leadership on the City's effort to work with the two Chicago schools and engage the community is a similarly positive step as the Foundation moves toward a recommendation."
"All four institutions have submitted proposals that were thoughtful and strong, and the Foundation is excited by the innovative nature of each, he said. "The purpose of the Foundation's work is to present the president and first lady with the best possible option for a future presidential center. In order to do that, the Foundation has been communicating with each institution to outline potential issues with their proposals, and all four respondents have been working to address any concerns that have been raised."
Late Tuesday, the University of Chicago released a memo saying the Barack Obama presidential library and museum would be a "new jewel" of Chicago's South Side park system. The area around the parcels of land — adjacent to the University of Chicago's Hyde Park campus, which is not far from the Obama residence in the same neighborhood — are ripe for economic growth, the university stressed, addressing a key component of the foundation's hope for the new structure.
Tuesday marked the first time the University of Chicago, once thought to be a frontrunner to land the project, released details about its plans. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama's first chief of staff as president, has reportedly taken over the University of Chicago's bid for the Obama library amid pressure that the bid was losing its appeal because it did not own the land on which it planned to build.
The plans revolve around 22- and 21-acre plots of land in both Washington Park and Jackson Park/Woodlawn, respectively. Both parcels offer the Barack Obama Foundation more space than Columbia University, which is proposing the library and museum be built as the heart of its 17-acre Manhattanville campus expansion project. The University of Chicago said it estimates the building would use about 10 acres of space or less and plans call for additional greenspace.
University of Chicago estimates 800,000 annual visitors would spend $31 million near the site, supporting 41 new businesses. The university also estimates the library would have an economic impact of $220 million per year, including close to 2,000 permanent jobs and just over 3,000 construction jobs.
The memo comes the week before public hearings in Chicago on the library bid are held.
Nesbitt, who is based in Chicago, will reportedly not attend.
"Locating the Barack Obama Presidential Library on Chicago's South Side offers a rare chance to reinvigorate the economy of nearby communities and make improvements for the area's infrastructure and parks," said Susan Sher, the senior adviser to University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer. "We look forward to hearing further community input regarding the proposed sites in Washington Park or Woodlawn, where the presidential library will create a global destination for learning and engagement."
Top Emanuel aide David Spielfogel confirmed to BuzzFeed News that Emanuel would "be involved" in next week's public hearings. But he pushed back at the notion that the disclosure of the details by the university is part of a last-ditch effort to save the project from failure.
The University of Chicago "has had their plan out there for months, held dozens of public community meetings, etc.," Spiefogel said in an email. "The final weeks of proposals, all bidders are wrapping up the final requirements."
The possibility that the foundation might go elsewhere with its presidential library has become something of a political iceberg for Emanuel, who is up for reelection on Feb. 24.