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Conservation Group Tells Obama His Library Decision Could Mean Legal Action

In a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News, Friends of the Parks asks for a personal audience with President Obama and the First Lady while in Chicago this week. They also warn that if the Obama foundation chooses the University of Chicago's public park land bid, potential legal action could follow.

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WASHINGTON –– An influential Chicago nonprofit will tell President Obama that a decision by his foundation to pick the University of Chicago's bid to get the presidential library and use public park land is fraught with legal obstacles, according to a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Friends of the Parks, the nonprofit "dedicated to the conservation of Chicago's parks and lakefront beaches," will appeal to the president and First Lady regarding public land usage for the Obama presidential library — and say that potential legal action could be on the horizon.

Last week, the Chicago Park District board voted to transfer –– for $1 –– close to 20 acres of parkland to the city in the case that the University of Chicago's bid to host the Obama library was chosen as a host site. The University of Chicago and the Obama foundation have both said that the land transfer would improve the city's chances on being selected. The decision is expected to be made by the Obamas relatively soon.

"We appeal to your thoughtful judgment, as a former local community organizer and international leader who represents and espouses equality and change, that a potential lawsuit is not the foundation upon which to build an institution which represents the legacy of your life's achievements," the letter states.

In some of its strongest language to date, Friends of the Parks reiterated its opposition for the Obama foundation to green light the University of Chicago's bid for the library in Washington or Jackson parks, which are both adjacent to the school's South Side campus. Friends of the Parks will attach an article by Newsday which reported that Obama met with the group in 1986 over efforts to improve the quality of green space in the South Side. That context, Friends of the Parks argues, "should guide our efforts in protecting irreplaceable public parkland for the residents, while also providing an opportunity to place your library in the Washington Park neighborhood on non-park land."

"Given the significant legal and community relations obstacles surrounding the proposed use of either of these parks as the potential location of the Obama Library, to pursue either of these parks would divide the very communities which your legacy helped to unite."

Friends of the Parks is seeking to meet with Obama on Feb. 19 while he is in town to designate Chicago's historic Pullman Park district as a national monument. The trip, first reported by the Washington Post, commemorates the work of George Pullman, the businessman whose black employees were known as Pullman porters. Their work to create the first black labor union was instrumental in the shaping of the Civil Rights movement.

"The placement of the Obama Library in our historic parks does not respect our city's history and irretrievably promotes the legal practice of transferring public assets for private use," the letter reads. "We respectfully urge you to show the high level of leadership that you have consistently demonstrated and make the right choice, one that honors our city and the ideals you have inspired in its people."

February 16, 2015The President and Mrs. Obama The White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500Dear Mr. President and Mrs. Obama:Friends of the Parks hopes that you will select Chicago as the home of the Obama Presidential Library, as we have consistently stated. Locating your library in Chicago, whether on the south or west side, will bring welcome economic development, create job growth and educational opportunities for residents and visitors, and will sustain Chicagoans' pride in your celebrated history and connection to our city. Again we reiterate, we enthusiastically support the siting of the Obama Library:*on the University of Chicago's and City's mostly vacant 11-acre, non-park site on the west side of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, integrating the Chicago Transit Authority Green Line Station, and*on the near west and west side of Chicago, as proposed in the University of Illinois Chicago sites.However, we stand at the forefront of a growing, passionate and forceful alliance of local and national organizations, which oppose the siting of the Obama Library in a park or public open space, notably in Chicago's renowned and historic Washington or Jackson Parks. Given the significant legal and community relations obstacles surrounding the proposed use of either of these parks as the potential location of the Obama Library, to pursue either of these parks would divide the very communities which your legacy helped to unite.We appeal to your thoughtful judgment, as a former local community organizer and international leader who represents and espouses equality and change, that a potential lawsuit is not the foundation upon which to build an institution which represents the legacy of your life's achievements. Our past joint efforts to improve South-side parks when you were a community organizer in Chicago, as demonstrated in the attached 2008 Newsday article, should guide our efforts in protecting irreplaceable public parkland for the residents, while also providing an opportunity to place your library in the Washington Park neighborhood on non-park land.We would like to request a brief audience with you and/or Mrs. Obama during your upcoming Pullman visit later this week to discuss the site options that we support as listed above. We believe we will be able to demonstrate the win-win nature of these alternatives that will also support a leading- edge, urban solution worthy of your presidential library.Given the exceptional value that you have placed on the preservation of open space recently in Alaska and elsewhere, it is difficult to comprehend that in a neighborhood where parks and open spaces function as the "lungs of a city", providing respite from high-density urban development and where communities come together, that you would consider the confiscation of this important public open space asset as a construction site. We are at a pivotal point in our nation's history where a future characterized by the sacrifice of irreplaceable public open spaces to satisfy the insatiable development ambitions of private interests threatens to be the norm, resulting in the erosion of the very spaces, our parks and waterfronts, that distinguish our cities and nation as exceptional and livable.The use of public parkland to fulfill a dated, sprawling building typology from the fifties for a presidential library when an adjacent, viable, privately-controlled site which could support a leading-edge, urban design solution for this important institution, seems at odds with your defining principles. We encourage you to insure that your presidential library is a symbol that builds communities - not vanity buildings; that espouses democracy - not private interests; and that celebrates the future growth of our city and inspires natural beauty which sustains our urban humanity.The local and national press has been inundated with eloquent and sophisticated editorials from engaged local residents, academics, urban planners and historians, opposing the use of parkland for the presidential library and suggesting that there are excellent and viable alternatives which we can all support. The placement of the Obama Library in our historic parks does not respect our city's history and irretrievably promotes the legal practice of transferring public assets for private use. We respectfully urge you to show the high level of leadership that you have consistently demonstrated and make the right choice, one that honors our city and the ideals you have inspired in its people.Most sincerely,Cassandra J. Francis, PresidentLauren Moltz, Board ChairFred Bates, Board Vice-Chair

Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Darren Sands at darren.sands@buzzfeed.com.

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