WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama has chosen Chicago to host his future presidential library, two individuals with knowledge of the decision said Thursday, placing the permanent monument to his legacy in the city that launched his improbable ascent to the White House.
The University of Chicago’s victory marks a letdown for the other three schools on the shortlist: the University of Hawaii, New York’s Columbia University and the University of Illinois at Chicago, a public school that proposed building the library on Chicago’s West Side.
Obama’s library will be built on Chicago’s South Side, where the University of Chicago has proposed two potential sites not far from the Obama family’s home. It was unclear which of the two sites had been selected, but an official announcement was expected within weeks.
The decision brings to a close a hard-fought competition that kicked off in the earliest days of Obama’s second term — a process that started quietly ramped up into high gear when longtime Obama associates formed the Barack Obama Foundation, which recently recommended the winner to the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
From an initial list of about a dozen proposals, the foundation chose four universities to vie for the library. In recent months it became increasingly clear that the Obamas were leaning toward the University of Chicago, the elite private school where Obama taught law before becoming president.
Still, the president has suggested that the library may be just one component of the post-presidential project; presidential libraries often have accompanying policy institutes, presidential centers or museums. Obama has signaled an interest in spending time in New York and Hawaii after leaving the White House, and people familiar with the decision said Obama was likely to base other types of programming at the universities that lost out on the library itself.
Hawaii officials said Thursday they were still awaiting official confirmation on the library selection from the Obama Foundation, and remained hopeful that a portion of their proposal might be accepted.
In a written statement, Hawaii Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui said, "I’d like to congratulate the University of Chicago for being selected to host President Obama’s future library. We have not received any updates from the Obama Foundation, yet. However, we look forward to hearing from the Barack Obama Foundation and hope to work with them in the near future."
In December, UH officials submitted their formal bid for the presidential library — projecting between $25 million and $40 million in tax revenue and spotlighting the built-in attraction of millions of Hawaii visitors who would be drawn to the site. The written proposal for the Barack Obama Presidential Center was coordinated by UH with input from government and community groups.
Obama was born in Honolulu in 1961 and spent much of his childhood here, graduating from Punahou School in 1979. He and his family have vacationed here every Christmas since before he was elected president in 2008.
However, he came to national prominence in his adopted home of Chicago, where he served in the state Senate and later as a U.S. senator from Illinois.
While the library won’t be built until after Obama leaves office, fundraising has already started for the expansive project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build while serving as an economic engine for the surrounding area. The Barack Obama Foundation, formed by longtime Obama associates, screened proposals and recommended the winner to the president and first lady Michelle Obama, who only recently made the final decision.
Obama’s decision to place the library in Chicago was conveyed to the Associated Press by two individuals with direct knowledge of the decision. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced.
Obama’s foundation, the White House, the University of Chicago and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office all declined to comment.
But the individuals said the foundation’s chairman, Obama pal and businessman Marty Nesbitt, spoke with the president earlier in the week about the announcement. A news conference that had been scheduled for Wednesday to announce the decision was postponed at the last minute, and is expected to be rescheduled for mid-May.
That the University of Chicago had the inside track grew increasingly evident as the competition progressed. After all, Obama taught law there before becoming president, Michelle Obama once worked for the school’s medical center and her former chief of staff was put in charge of running the university’s campaign to win the library. Half of the Obama Foundation’s board lives in Chicago.
While the Obamas had intended to announce the winning site by the end of March, a messy confluence of Chicago politics and Obama’s busy schedule led to multiple delays.
The university’s struggles to put forward a solid proposal burst into public view late last year when Obama’s foundation let it be known publicly that it had serious concerns. The school, in its proposal, had failed to prove it could secure the Chicago Park District land on which it was proposing to build.
That set off a scramble by university officials and Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff. Despite vocal opposition from a park preservation group, the City of Chicago moved to acquire access to the property while state lawmakers fast-tracked legislation ensuring that Chicago could use public parkland for the project, all but ensuring the library would go to the South Side.
But when Emanuel failed to win enough votes in his March re-election to avoid a runoff, the foundation opted to hold off on a final decision until the runoff vote in April, the AP reported. The library had become a potent issue in the race, and the foundation wanted to avoid injecting the library decision into the political fray.