Why Chicago Will Win the Obama Library - NBC Chicago
Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Why Chicago Will Win the Obama Library

It's practically written in the Windy City skyline



    As we prophesied, Chicago stands atop President Barack Obama's shortlist as a location to host his highly coveted library and museum.

    The president's foundation, whittling down the field of contenders to four, selected the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago as two possibilities in the tough-and-gruff Midwestern city where Obama made his political bones, married wife Michelle and rose to meteoric fame.

    The other two locations are New York's Columbia University, Obama's venerable, deep-pocketed alma mater, and the University of Hawaii, on the tourist-attracting island where he grew up.

    The quartet is required to submit in-depth pitches for their dueling libraries by a deadline of Dec. 11. The Barack Obama Foundation, headed up by Obama confidante Marty Nesbitt, is expected to make a decision early next year.

    So how good are Chicago's chances of trouncing the competition? So good, it's practically in the bag. At the moment, the obvious favorite is arguably U of C, an esteemed private institution whose South Side campus is close to the Obamas' Hyde Park home and where Obama taught classes at the law school.

    But don't count out UIC, the public university on the West Side, which also submitted an attractive proposal that showcases Chicago's famed skyline and provides convenient access to public transportation.

    Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii has pitched the idea of hosting a satellite building of sorts—a "presidential center"—in collaboration with a stateside locale that would house the primary library.

    Without having seen the bidders' completed plans, it's appealing to envision a Chicago-Hawaii partnership—and on that end, Obama's sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, who's based in the Aloha State, recently joined the library search committee board.

    Soetoro-Ng will most certainly make the case for Hawaii, while another newly minted board member—former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, who's based in DC—could stump for the East Coast. Nesbitt founded The Vistria Group, a private equity company, in Chicago and also earned his Masters of Business Administration Degree from U of C, lending some credence to predictions that the grand prize will inevitably go to Chicago.

    Back in July, the foundation disclosed the names of wealthy donors who collectively contributed as much as $1.75 million in an early round of fundraising. They include Michael Sacks, the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, a funder of hedge funds based in the Windy City, and a veteran Obama campaign bundler as well as a confidante of Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who's dying to score the library).

    Earlier this year, Chicago wrangled the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art away from San Francisco and Los Angeles, allowing Emauel to tout George Lucas project's job creation potential and calling its construction a "significant step" for the city.

    The Obama library would be a double win for Emanuel during a re-election year as he seeks to transform Chicago into a global tourism trap.

    "We're already a global city," Dick Simpson, professor of political science at the UIC, sits on its Obama library committee, recently told Ward Room. "But (the Obama library) and the Lucas museum add dimensions to the foundation that is already here."