Obama Library Headed to President's Adopted Hometown of Chicago

on February 19, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama will build his library in Chicago, his adopted hometown and the city that shaped him as a young politician and propelled him onto the national stage, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The library and museum will be located at the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side, where Obama taught law school and near the home he still owns, the newspaper said, citing unnamed people. The New York Times, also citing unnamed sources, had reported Chicago as the winner earlier.

Chicago, New York and Honolulu -- all cities where Obama spent key parts of his life -- had competed to host the library, which will bring jobs and attract visitors. It will open after Obama, 53, leaves office in January 2017.

Other finalists were the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York City and the University of Hawaii. The University of Chicago had always been viewed as the frontrunner.

The Barack Obama Foundation, which will lead the project’s fundraising and logistical work, declined to comment, as did the University of Chicago and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, referred inquiries to the foundation.

The Tribune reported that Obama called Emanuel late last week to thank him and two Democratic leaders of the Illinois legislature for fast-tracking state legislation that would authorize the use of parkland for a presidential library. The president didn’t go further to indicate the library would be located in Chicago, according to the Tribune.

Planned Announcement

An official announcement could come in the next few weeks, the newspaper said.

The president and the foundation have also considered a plan to place the president’s offices and the foundation in New York, the Tribune reported. Obama’s offices could be built in West Harlem on land offered by Columbia University.

Officials in Hawaii already have been told that they would not get the library, but would instead be allowed to build a project that represents the state’s ties to the president, the Tribune said.

Private money will finance most of the cost of building the library complex and surrounding grounds. Presidential libraries have typically been built with private funds before they’re turned over to the National Archives for operation.

Funding Libraries

More than $500 million in private money was raised for the most recently built presidential shrine, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. That institution opened in 2013 at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, more than four years after the 43rd president left office.

In Bush’s case, roughly half of the fundraising went to construction for what is the nation’s largest presidential library complex, while the other half went to programming, maintenance endowments and other costs.

The price of presidential libraries has grown over the years, reflecting inflation and their increasing grandeur. Although others have started raising money, the president, first lady and current White House staff won’t actively do so until Obama leaves office, according to the foundation.

The Obama foundation has also established some self-imposed limits. It will not accept donations from groups other than 501(c)(3) non-profits and won’t take support from foreign nationals, currently registered federal lobbyists or foreign agents. It plans to disclose all donors and donations of more than $200 on a quarterly basis.

Economic Development

Previously opened presidential libraries have brought with them millions of dollars in economic development. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum’s opening in Little Rock in 2004 was followed by office buildings, hotels and restaurants.

More than 2.3 million people visited official presidential libraries in fiscal year 2013, according to a National Archives and Records Administration report. Exhibit and museum attendance that year was highest at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California, with 426,344.

An economic impact analysis commissioned by the University of Chicago last year estimated that construction alone would cost $380 million for an Obama library, based on other presidential libraries and anticipated features of Obama’s.

Attracting Visitors

The study projected it could draw as many as 800,000 visitors a year, almost double the total for Reagan’s in 2013. That estimate was based on it being located in an urban setting with nearby public-transportation stops.

The annual economic impact to the City of Chicago was estimated to be $220 million, due primarily to an increase in city visitors, the report said. It could create 1,900 permanent new jobs.

Emanuel, Obama’s first White House chief of staff, had aggressively lobbied for the library.

The foundation planned to make its announcement in late March. That date was pushed back after Emanuel was forced into an April 7 runoff election, which he won, because the foundation didn’t want to make its decision amid uncertainty surrounding the city’s leadership.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.
LEARN MORE