NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York, Chicago and Honolulu have each launched efforts to outdo one another as the competition to host President Barack Obama’s future presidential library comes to a close.
Next week, a handful of Obama’s oldest friends and associates will start judging proposals from Columbia University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of Hawaii.
By the end of March, Obama and the first lady will announce the winner.
Knowing the future library will be a prominent tourist attraction and historical site, each community is offering Obama prime real estate, financial backing and grand visions for what his library could look like.
The Barack Obama Foundation has requested specifics on a host of items, including local zoning and transportation, architectural design and management plans. But the foundation’s board, which includes Obama’s sister and his former campaign manager, has made clear that a university’s ability to help pay for the project will also be a factor.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell are actively encouraging Obama to pick their communities. But the proposals, due next week, are confidential, and the competitors have been wary of tipping their hand by disclosing all the details.
Likewise, Obama has been careful to say no city has an advantage. But Chicago, where Obama rose to prominence and had his children, is believed to have an inside track. Chicagoans make up half of the foundation’s board, and Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff is running the bid by the University of Chicago, where Obama taught law before becoming president.
Only one city will host Obama’s actual library, where government archivists will preserve his documents and artifacts. However, Obama could follow President Bill Clinton’s model and house his library in one place and a presidential institute or foundation elsewhere.
That prospect has led all four universities to discuss possible collaborations, although each school is still expected to submit an independent bid for the entire project.
Columbia has said little about its proposal and has declined to answer questions. But in a statement, the university said it wants to put the library in Manhattanville, where Columbia is currently expanding with a satellite campus.
People familiar with Columbia’s proposal, who weren’t authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity, said Columbia is also considering hosting just a part of the broader library project. New York Mayor de Blasio seemed to the city could be satisfied under that scenario when he told reporters at the White House this week, “We would obviously love to host a piece of it.”
Obama spent his junior and senior years of college at Columbia between 1981 and 1983, and received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the school. It is the only school on the list where he was actually a student.
The U of C is proposing to build in one of the struggling South Side Chicago neighborhoods bordering its campus in Hyde Park, near Obama’s home. At least three proposed sites include Chicago park land, Park District Board President Bryan Traubert has said.
The university commissioned a study estimating the project would create 1,900 permanent jobs, with $220 million in annual economic impact and 800,000 annual visitors. Under Mayor Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, the city has worked with both of the competing Chicago universities to explore possible transportation and infrastructure upgrades at the winning site.
At the U of C, Obama served as a lecturer and later senior lecturer at the Law School from 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004. President Obama also resided in the surrounding neighborhood and represented the area in the Illinois State Senate, and First Lady Michelle Obama served as associate dean of student services at the U of C and later as vice president for community and external affairs at the U of C Medical Center.
UIC has proposed two sites on its campus on Chicago’s Near West Side, plus a third in North Lawndale, a heavily black neighborhood a few miles to the west. That site would be in partnership with a community organization and would include a 23-acre park. The school’s head librarian said a dozen university officials and volunteers worked on the proposal.
The school has sought to show how each location is intimately tied to Chicago’s rich history on civil rights and community activism, hoping to tap into themes in Obama’s life that the library would aim to highlight. Appealing to Obama’s economic ideals, North Lawndale leaders are billing the site as a chance for Obama to help drive growth in an impoverished area.
Obama does not have a direct past connection to the UIC.
The showpiece of Honolulu’s proposal to build the library in Obama’s birthplace is a 7-acre plot of undeveloped, oceanfront property in a gritty corner of Honolulu called Kakaako, not far from downtown and the hopping Waikiki tourist zone. Visitors would have panoramic views stretching from Diamond Head, Honolulu’s iconic volcanic crater, to the island’s lush, fog-tipped mountains.
Drawing on Obama’s foreign policy emphasis on Asia, the university is pitching Hawaii as the ideal place for Obama to engage on global issues after the presidency, and wants to build a think tank and a young leadership academy into the project. The school has already raised money from Hawaii’s legislature, residents and local companies.
Obama’s parents, Barack Obama Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham, both attended the University of Hawaii in the state where President Obama was born and grew up.
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