5 things to know about the Obama library, museum

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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s presidential library and museum — whether located on the South or West side of Chicago, Manhattan or Honolulu — must be a place that “nurtures thinkers, artists, activists and change agents” and “creates a space for investigation and experimentation.”

Those are some of the “guiding principles” the schools competing for the facility — the University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University and the University of Hawaii — must address in their bids, according to a document released Monday.

The forward-looking language from the Chicago-based Obama foundation, which is overseeing site selection and construction of the facility, illustrates how the project is as much about the future of Obama and first lady Michelle as it will be about their eight years in the White House.

The foundation also announced on Monday the four finalists who made the cut, and those schools learned that in addition to a library and museum, the proposals should “include an institute that will enhance the pursuit of the President’s initiative beyond 2017 and have local, regional and global impacts.”

Bids are due by 5 p.m. Chicago time on Dec. 11. Here are five things to know:

1) The foundation’s bid document, called a “request for proposal,” includes a shopping list of items bidders should try to wrangle from state, local and regional governments.

That includes outright funding to support “educational partnerships with local schools,” park, landscape and streetscape improvements; tax increment financing possibilities; bike, road and other transit upgrades, and investments in surrounding areas to spur linked economic development.

Earlier this year, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, D-Chicago, poisoned potential of state of Illinois help in a clumsy move to muscle through a measure to appropriate $100 million from the cash-strapped state to help finance construction of the library.

No matter who wins the governor’s race — Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn or Republican nominee Bruce Rauner — it’s hard to see how the politics of an outright grant would work.

But the state could come up with a package of infrastructure improvements — perhaps bonding authority — and maybe funnel some money earmarked for higher education to the Obama Institute.

After all, the University of Chicago and UIC have to be concerned that officials from New York and Hawaii will help sweeten the deal for their schools.

2) In May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel sent a letter to foundation Chairman Marty Nesbitt outlining potential city investments that could benefit the project if it were located on the South Side.

In the coming days, I’m told, city hall senior adviser David Spielfogel will meet with representatives from U of C, pitching three South Side locations, and UIC, pushing three West Side sites to see what they are looking for.

I’m told the Emanuel South Side preference stated in the letter is not a factor in helping UIC as much as the University of Chicago. The goal of Emanuel, Obama’s first White House chief of staff, is to land the library. It’s part of his legacy too.

The letter from May includes an Emanuel idea to create a “local education zone” to connect elementary, high school and community college programs to the Obama library. Now that Emanuel has dropped the idea of naming a North Side high school for Obama, the name is available for a school in the “zone.”

3) According to the RFP, the foundation has the ability to negotiate with “one or more partners” at the same time, which certainly will give the foundation leverage in pitting competitors against each other.

The foundation did not make the bids public. UIC, a public institution, posted its bid online. The University of Chicago, a private school, declined to make its bid public.

4) As the great architect and Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham said, “make no little plans” and that is what the foundation is doing.

The RFP calls for the library/museum/institute to be “a new international destination” that “collaborates with like-minded institutions around the world.”

5) Still, on the local level, the foundation is sensitive about not being seen as imposing itself on a community. The RFP asks the bidders for a lot of information about relevant neighborhood outreach and community-based partnerships.

Obama is the first African-American president, and the RFP asks bidders about university employees’ race and gender — and what jobs they hold — as well as the university’s “long-term diversity goals and the plan to achieve them.”

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