Odds favor Chicago sites — U. of C. or UIC — for Obama library

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WASHINGTON — The finalists for the Obama library and museum announced Monday — the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University and the University of Hawaii — face a very heavy lift to win the competition.

The Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation, in naming the final four, also released an 18-page bid document called a “Request for Proposal” that sheds light, for the first time, on the gigantic financial commitment the bidders must make — in perpetuity.

We learned in the RFP that the foundation wants to create an academic institute connected to the facility, which will run up the tab, since this would be in addition to an enormous capital pledge to build and run a museum and library.

Some of the burden, however, could be shared by local, regional and state governments, the foundation suggested in the RFP. In an earlier column, I wrote about how other presidential libraries were built with a mix of private funds, federal support for the library operation and local help.

RELATED:Obama library finalists: U of Chicago, UIC, Hawaii, Columbia

The odds more than favor Chicago landing the Obama facility. Chicago is where Obama launched the political career that led to the White House, where he met his wife, and where Michelle Obama was born and raised.

Obama spent much of his childhood in Hawaii and received his undergraduate degree from Columbia.

Chicago has two powerhouse schools in the mix, even though the private U. of C.in Hyde Park and the public UICon the West Side, each want the facility near their main campus. Each school offered the foundation three sites.

The foundation did not make any picks among the Chicago locations they were offered.

The U. of C. bid includes sites near Hyde Park High School, at 6220 S. Stony Island; the area near 55th and King Drive; and the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore.

However, resistance already is building against using the Chicago Park District-owned South Shore Cultural Center for the Obama library.

The influential Metropolitan Planning Council sent a letter to the foundation warning against using South Shore or any Park District land for the Obama project. The council is concerned that the U. of C.’s Stony Island concept includes part of adjacent Jackson Park. Friends of the Parks, another group, also objects to using any city park land for the Obama library.

The UIC bid offered sites near its West Side campus and the university’s nearby Medical Center campus, plus one in the Lawndale neighborhood, a parcel bordered by Fifth Avenue, Roosevelt Road, Kostner Avenue and Kildare Avenue.

Columbia, a private school in Manhattan, has the resources to muster a robust bid for its Harlem site. I see them being kept in the mix on merit but also to force the U. of C. to up the ante.

Otherwise, the U. of C., with its numerous links to the Obamas and hunger to land the project, might not dig into its deep pockets as much as the foundation might like.

I’m not surprised that the University of Hawaii made the cut, because Obama’s half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, a Hawaii resident, is one of the four members of the foundation board. Hawaii, pitching a site in Honolulu, also proposed a “presidential center” as an alternative if it can’t get the whole project.

The foundation in the RFP wants proposals to:

  • Create an academic institute with “possibly a degree-seeking program.”The last three presidential libraries and museums have related academic institutes: The George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University; the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas; and the George W. Bush Institute at Southern Methodist University.
  • Provide a “capital commitment” pledge for the development, construction and annual operation of the project.
  • When the first bid documents were released in March, a major requirement was to demonstrate in the first round how the library and museum can be an “economic engine” for the surrounding area by attracting public and private investments. The RFP wants bidders to state “any capital resources available for the plan.”

The RFP is due on Dec. 11. The board will present recommendations to the first couple in early 2015. The initial bid documents, called “Requests for Qualifications,” were issued on March 20 and due on June 16.

The foundation said in June that it received 13 responses to the RFQ — but it never revealed the list. One from Kenya was immediately tossed out. The bottom line is that there were only seven major bidders.

The need for vast resources are probable reasons the three other bidders — all from Chicago — were cut, including Chicago State University on the far South Side.

That includes two bidders with no university affiliation, a group from Bronzeville pushing the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital, at 2929 S. Ellis and developer Dan McCaffery, offering land on the Southeast side, at his Lakeside project on the site of the old U.S. Steel Southworks complex.

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