Obama foundation releases vision for presidential library, museum

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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 upwards of $500 million, according to people familiar with the scope of the project.

Replies to the RFQ’s 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 — among many other items — 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 foundation, also by design, does not want to exclude any entity wanting to make a pitch for the project at this stage.

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,” said 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 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.”

The Obama foundation is also looking for by-in from the communities surrounding proposed sites by requiring the bidder to include the concerns of local interests in developing a bid. The RFQ calls for a “strategic plan for engaging community stakeholders,” calling “a vital component of a successful response.”

To that end, the bidder will have to mount a significant effort, according to the RFQ, which asks for information outlining “a long-term community engagement plan,” to include the input of “key community partners,” that is, “local and regional chambers of commerce, elected officials, residents’ associations, etc.” The bidder will be asked to “describe available means of community engagement, such as town hall meetings, online campaigns, etc.”

The bidders will also be asked to provide:

— a pitch on how the proposed development would “have an impact on the greater community” regarding linkage to education, tourism, and economic development.

— aerial photographs of the site legal and topographical survey indicating general contours of the site.

— detailed description of the current zoning of the property.

— population characteristics including demographics.

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, where university board chief Chris Kennedy, who has talked to U of C officials about working together.

Real estate developer Daniel McCaffery is pitching for the museum to be located on the Southeast Side on the now cleared site of the former U.S. Steel South Works. McCaffery wants to forge a strategic alliance with the University of Chicago — or whatever entity emerges as the prime bidder to site the library on 60 lakefront acres he will donate for the project.

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.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said in a statement, “Today’s announcement by the Barack H. Obama Foundation represents another important step toward a future presidential library.

Together with a number of civic and institutional leaders who are passionate about the future of Chicago’s South Side, I look forward to making the case that the Obama Presidential Library would be ideal for one of our neighboring communities.”

UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares, in a statement about her West Side school said, “As Chicago’s only public research university, and as a comprehensive health sciences center, UIC has a public mission that parallels the Obama agenda of social justice. In our community, and for all humankind, this young campus has shared a destiny with the Obama Presidency’s aspirations and legacy — to rebuild community, innovate in health care delivery and methods, and serve an increasingly diverse America.”

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