Bidding Starts Early For Site Of Obama's Future Library

Feb 8, 2014
Originally published on February 12, 2014 1:43 pm

President Obama doesn't leave office until January of 2017, but already the competition has begun for the right to host his presidential library and museum.

A new foundation has been set up to raise money and to begin the site selection process, and there are already bids in the works from Chicago, Honolulu and elsewhere.

A Tradition Of Archives

Professor Richard Cox of the University of Pittsburgh has studied the history of U.S. presidential libraries. The newest, the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, opened just last year, but the very first was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's. Prior to FDR, Cox says, there was no formal mechanism for the preservation of presidential papers.

"He had this idea of having his presidential records [and] archives moved to his estate in Hyde Park in New York," Cox says. "One of the ideas being that he could have National Archives staff and others process and inventory his records that he could use for his memoirs and whatever else he was planning to do in his retirement."

Since then, every president has had a library. Most are in the state the president was born in, or in a place they considered home. Each houses the presidential archive and papers, attracting both scholars and tourists.

Each presidential library reflects its namesake. The most recent addition, George W. Bush's, is more conservative in design; Bill Clinton's in Little Rock is a modernist, glass structure.

The 2004 Clinton library dedication also veered far from tradition. In the midst of a rainstorm, U2's Bono and The Edge performed an impromptu Beatles tune for the four presidents sitting nearby under umbrellas.

Finding A Home For Obama's Library

Obama's political roots are pure Chicago; it's the first lady's hometown and where his children were born. He also based his presidential campaigns there.

A long-time, very close friend of the president, Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, is a director of the new Barack H. Obama Foundation in charge of the library planning process. Conventional wisdom holds that Chicago is the heavy favorite, but Nesbitt stresses that the decision rests with the president.

"We want to give every interested party a fair shot at it, and each of these proposals will be evaluated on their merit," Nesbitt says. "So at this point, I don't think any city, site, location, state [or] institution has any advantage over another."

Don't tell Hawaii that Chicago has the inside track. The Aloha state is where Obama was born, were he vacations and a place he loves very much. Hawaiians love him too.

"The state of Hawaii has set aside land in an area called Kaka'ako," says Hawaii's Sen. Brian Schatz. "It is beautiful waterfront property and we think there couldn't be a more spectacular and appropriate location should the president want to locate this in the state of Hawaii."

Another serious bid could come from Columbia University in New York City, where Obama was a student.

A decision on a site will come early next year, and look for the Obama Presidential Library dedication ceremony sometime around the year 2020.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. President Obama still has years ahead in the White House, but the competition's already begun to host his presidential library. This week, a foundation was set up to raise money and to choose a site. An obvious choice would be Chicago, of course, where Mr. Obama has lived and taught and roots for the White Sox.

But NPR's national political correspondent, Don Gonyea reports, it's not the only city in the running.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The newest presidential library opened just last year. It's a traditional red brick and limestone structure, the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. And that feeling of tradition carried over to the dedication ceremony.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BATTLE HYMN OF THE REPUBLIC")

CHOIR: (Singing) My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

GONYEA: Professor Richard Cox of the University of Pittsburgh has studied the history of U.S. presidential libraries. The very first was Franklin Delano Roosevelt's. Prior to FDR, Cox says there was no formal mechanism for the preservation of presidential papers.

RICHARD COX: He had this idea of having his presidential records, archives, moved to his estate in Hyde Park in New York, one of the ideas being that we could have National Archive staff and others process and inventory the records that he could use for the writing of his memoirs and whatever else he was planning to do in his retirement.

GONYEA: Since then, every president has had a library. Most are in the state of birth or in a place they considered home. Each houses the presidential archive and papers, attracting scholars and tourists, which brings us to President Obama. His political roots are pure Chicago. It's the First Lady's hometown, where his children were born. He based his presidential campaigns there. A long-time very close friend of the president, Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, is a director of the new Barack H. Obama Foundation, in charge of the library planning process. Conventional wisdom holds that Chicago is the heavy favorite. But Nesbitt stresses that the decision rests with the President.

MARTY NESBITT: We want to give every interested party a fair shot at it and each of these proposals will be evaluated on their merit. And so at this point I don't think any city, site, location, state, institution has any advantage over another.

GONYEA: Don't tell Hawaii that Chicago has the inside track. The Aloha State is where President Obama was born, where he vacations, and a place he very much loves. They love him too. Here's U.S. Senator Brian Schatz.

SENATOR BRIAN SCHATZ: The state of Hawaii has set aside land in an area called K'aka ako which is downtown Honolulu in between downtown and Waikiki. And it is beautiful waterfront property, and we think there couldn't be a more spectacular and appropriate location should the president wish to locate something in the state of Hawaii.

GONYEA: Another serious bid could come from Columbia University in New York City, where Obama was a student. A decision on a site will come early next year. Wherever it's located, each presidential library reflects its namesake. If the most recent addition, George. W. Bush's is more conservative in design, Bill Clinton's in Little Rock is a modernist glass structure. The 2004 Clinton Library dedication also veered far from tradition.

In the midst of a rainstorm, U2's Bono and the Edge performed an impromptu Beatles tune for the four presidents sitting nearby under umbrellas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAIN")

BONO: (Singing) When the rain comes they run and take their head. We've got four presidents out of bed. When the rain comes, when the rain comes.

GONYEA: Look for the Obama presidential library dedication ceremony sometime around the year 2020. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.