Why Chicago beat Honolulu as site of Obama presidential library

The library will be hosted by the University of Chicago and will house enough artifacts and unclassified documents to fill a swimming pool and several semi trucks.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Obama speaks at Anacostia Library in Washington, Thursday, April 30, 2015.

Chicago will house the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum, concluding a fierce battle that has been waged for much of his second term over the location of his presidential legacy.

The University of Chicago had proposed two locations for the library near the Obama family home on Chicago's South Side, according to two sources with knowledge of the decision who spoke with the Associated Press. The university, where President Obama used to teach law, will finance the project in partnership with the Barack Obama Foundation.

The library won't be built until after Mr. Obama leaves office, but fundraising for the project has already begun. Costs are expected to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, with planners hoping the library will help revitalize the surrounding area.

Chicago had long been the front-runner to host the library. The losing bids included the University of Honolulu, where the president grew up, Columbia University, where he went to college, and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Hawaii pitched itself as an opportunity for Obama to extend his focus on the Asia-Pacific region beyond his presidency. Columbia University offered prime real estate in its new campus expansion in West Harlem. And the University of Illinois pitched itself as an opportunity for the president to bolster his commitment to public education while invigorating a blighted area of his adopted hometown.

A library could generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually, create almost 2,000 jobs and attract up to 800,000 visitors each year in Chicago and Honolulu, according to two studies conducted in the cities last year, McClatchy reported.

While each location made a compelling argument, it appears the Obamas' personal connections to the University of Chicago won out in the end. Not only did the president once teach law there, but Michelle Obama once worked for the school's medical center. The person in charge of the university's campaign to win the library was Mrs. Obama's former chief of staff, and half of the board members of the Barack Obama Foundation live in Chicago. The Obama daughters also attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.

A University of Chicago location "would reflect the personal and professional lives of the Obamas, as well as their commitments to society,” University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer said in a statement last year.

Not much is known about the design and layout of the library, but it will also operate as part museum, part education center, and part archive. It will house enough artifacts and unclassified documents to fill a swimming pool and several semi trucks.

The winning location will be officially announced within a few weeks.

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