Which university will host Obama's presidential library?

Competition enters final stages

Competition is heating up among universities to host the Obama presidential library, but some are focused on avoiding the appearance of a "horse race," the Chicago Tribune reports.

Thursday was the deadline for schools to submit a proposal to the Barack Obama Foundation regarding their plans for a presidential library. Four bidders submitted proposals in time:

  • The University of Chicago;
  • The University of Illinois at Chicago;
  • Columbia University; and
  • The University of Hawaii.

"We look forward to working with each institution to further refine their proposals over the coming months, and presenting our recommendations to the president and first lady early next year," explains Martin Nesbitt, chairman of the board of the Barack Obama Foundation, which is overseeing the library's construction.

"Not a done deal"

Each school can claim a special connection to the Obama family as well as unique advantages and disadvantages. The Obamas lived and worked in Chicago, and that is also where the president first started his political career. But the president received his undergraduate degree from Columbia and he was born and raised in Hawaii.

Many consider the University of Chicago (U of C) to be the leading candidate. But Susan Sher, a senior advisor to U of C on the school's bid, says "this is a really serious competition. It's not a done deal by any means."

One challenge for U of C is finding land for the library. Hawaii has proposed a spot on the shoreline between Waikiki and Honolulu that offers a vista of the Diamond Head volcanic crater. And although New York City has its own land challenges, Columbia has "already identified, cleared, and gone through all the public processes required" to secure a building site, notes Sher.

Columbia hopes to place the library in West Harlem as part of an expansion program it negotiated in 2009. That deal pledged $76 million for community development, which helped ease its approval.

U of C has three potential sites in mind, all located in low-income, largely African-American neighborhoods. In some cases, the school has already started to acquire land—but additional approvals and permits would be required to actual start construction.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged that if either Chicago-based school is selected to host the library, he will work to speed any land conveyance ordinances through the city council.

Even as intrigue surrounds selection process, a source close to Columbia University's efforts told the Chicago Tribune that the process was not "a horse race where we have to beat another proposal."

The source continued "each school and city has its own particular strengths with profound differences, which are not easily aligned" (Glanton, Chicago Tribune, 12/10; Muskal, Los Angeles Times, 12/12).


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