Enough with the lavish presidential centers.
Barack Obama revealed the latest iteration of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on Jan. 9.“Michelle and I want this center to be more than just a building,” Obama said in a video statement released on Jan. 9. “We want to create an economic engine for the South Side of Chicago, a cultural attraction that showcases the South Side to the rest of the world.”
Why can’t it just be a damn presidential library?
As presented on Obama.org, the 225,000 sq. ft. the Obama Presidential Center will consist of: the Forum, a two-story public meeting space; a 235 ft. tall 165,000 sq. ft. museum tower; a library building; a plaza; an athletic center with multi-sport indoor facilities; a new outdoor running track; and a 400-450 space underground parking garage. At an event to unveil the plans, Obama said he’s also like to add a snow sledding hill, as well as play lots and paddle boats for a lagoon in new park space.
Not only will the library be one of the smaller elements of the site, it won’t actually contain any paper records. Instead, all Obama’s unclassified records will be digitized, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Obama’s actual papers will go to separate facilities maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration at locations to be determined, John Valceanu, NARA’s director of communication and marketing in Washington told the Chicago Tribune.
Opposition to the center is already surfacing. Faculty at the University of Chicago, where Obama was a lecturer at the Law School, released a letter on Jan. 8 asserting they had “concerns that the Obama Center as currently planned will not provide the promised development or economic benefits to the neighborhoods” and that the private Center would be taking over a major part of a historic Chicago park.
“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter said. “Construction of a permanent architectural monument violates Olmsted’s vision of a democratic urban park.”
The letter also bemoaned expected public expenses associated with the Center.
“ It is the taxpayers of Chicago who are going to be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this project, according to estimates by the Chicago Department of Transportation,” the letter said.
As of Jan. 10, 173 faculty had signed the letter.
Martin Nesbitt, chair of the Obama Foundation, estimated the total cost of the project will be $350 million. Groundbreaking is planned for late 2018 and and the grand opening in 2021.
The Obama Foundation, established in Jan. 2014, has been hard at work trying to raise money from the public to build and help maintain the Center.
During 2015-16, the Foundation raised $14,371,979 and had net assets of $10,888,797 at the end of 2016, according to the standard Form 990 non-profits are required to file annually with the IRS.
The Foundation raised its fundraising game substantially during those two years, spending just $12,000 on professional fundraising fees in 2015 and $578,579 in 2016. The Foundation’s 2017 Form 990 report is not yet available, but if the Foundation’s goal is $350 million [l;it likely has quite a way to go.
“We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard,” Anthony Clark wrote in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies. “As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”
Writing in Salon, Clark said presidential centers tend to be “proud, defensive, and a little self-absorbed” and eventually become theme parks with declining numbers of visitors.
With that in mind, it is discouraging to see the number of extravagant presidential centers continue to grow. Do we really need another presidential center funded by influence seekers and built by a /legacy-hungry ex-president?
Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more grandiose than its predecessor.
The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million in 1979; $99.8 million if you include the $79 million 68,000 sq. ft. Edward M. Kennedy Institute, complete with a full-scale replica of the U.S. Senate Chamber, added in March 2015
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs cost $60 million.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, AR cost $165 million.
At the rate things are going, The Donald J. Trump Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Presidential Library and Emporium will be a billion dollar extravaganza.
Enough of this insanity.
It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding and more lavish presidential centers celebrating former presidents’ egos.