Foundation unveils vision for Obama library

Written By BY LYNN SWEET Washington Bureau Chief Posted: 03/20/2014, 08:22pm

The foundation in charge of building President Barack Obama’s presidential museum and library — an institution sought by a variety of Chicago interests — on Thursday told potential bidders in broad terms what they needed to put on the table.

The long-awaited “requests for qualifications” document does not include any price tag for the construction and endowment for the institution, which will likely run significantly upward of $500 million, according to people familiar with the scope of the project.

Replies to the RFQs are due June 16, with those making the first cut to be invited to submit formal “request for proposals” (RFP) later this summer. The foundation expects to select a site in early 2015.

The RFQ document by design does not contain lists of detailed items, in part because it is “intended to serve as a source of inspiration for respondents.”

The foundation is looking at much more than a building and a site.

The winning bid must achieve linked economic development by “anchoring public and private investment,” “contribute to a cleaner, safer planet,” “create a new international destination,” and perhaps in a hat tip to Mrs. Obama’s signature campaign for healthy eating and exercise, support “a healthy lifestyle.”

The initial bidding is open, according to the document, “to any institution of higher learning, not-for-profit organization, private developer, or municipality that wishes to sponsor, develop, and maintain a multi-unit facility to be known as the Barack Obama presidential library.”

The foundation is led by Chicagoan Marty Nesbitt, the co-CEO of The Vistria Group and treasurer of Obama’s two White House campaigns; Julianna Smoot, a co-chair of the 2012 re-election bid and the 2008 National Finance Director, and J. Kevin Poorman, the Wilmette businessman who took over several companies run by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker when she stepped down to join Obama’s cabinet.

“I don’t have any preconceived ideas,” Nesbitt told me on Thursday. “I want to know what people are thinking.”

The bid document puts in writing, Smoot told me, “the values and the priorities that will be reflected” in the facility.

That language in the document refers to a “multi-unit facility,” perhaps a signal that the first couple — who make the final decision — are looking for more than one physical building to be their legacy institution.

That creates all kinds of possibilities and seems to be a carve-out especially valuable for Hawaii, which would be a long-shot, bidding on its own.

The University of Chicago has been working on a proposal for more than a year and has been taking steps to collaborate with potential rivals: the University of Hawaii, the University of Illinois and a leading Bronzeville community group.

One of the other items in the RFQ is for the winner to partner “with other organizations to share ideas, resources and audiences.”

I earlier reported that Hawaii, Obama’s birthplace realizes is will have difficulty competing for the massive library and museum. Instead, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie told me the state wants to land an Obama presidential center in Honolulu — as a “natural adjunct to whatever physical presence a presidential library would have on the mainland.”

Besides the U. of C. and Hawaiian interests, Columbia University in New York — with a 17-acre site near its upper West Side campus and big fundraising ability — is in the mix, as is a Bronzeville community group, Chicago State University and the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel told me he wants the city to submit a unified bid; it’s not clear yet how he will proceed in this two-step process.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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