The push to build Barack Obama's presidential library officially got underway Friday with the establishment of a foundation managed by three of his longtime supporters.
Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, a close friend of the president who served as national treasurer for Obama's two presidential campaigns, will head the Barack H. Obama Foundation. He is joined by Julianna Smoot, a former senior staff member in Obama's administration and the deputy campaign manager for his re-election, and Kevin Poorman, president and CEO of PSP Capital Partners, an investment firm founded by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker of Chicago.
"The president's future library will one day serve as an important part of our nation's historical record, and our mission is to build a library that tells President Obama's remarkable story in an interactive way that will inspire future generations to become involved in public service," Nesbitt said.
Although Chicago will be competing with other cities and states, including New York and Hawaii, to get the library, the University of Chicago on the South Side is considered by many observers to be the front-runner.
Shortly after the foundation was announced, the U. of C. issued a statement confirming its intention to bid for the library and build it at a location off campus. The site has yet to be determined, but a source familiar with the plans said the Washington Park neighborhood is under consideration.
"I strongly believe the Obama Presidential Library would be ideal for one of our neighboring communities on the South Side of Chicago," U. of C. President Robert Zimmer said in a statement. "Such a location would reflect the personal and professional lives of the Obamas."
The university has pulled together a coalition of business leaders and representatives from community organizations on the South Side to work on the bid in an advisory capacity, officials said.
While the final decision on the location will be made by Obama and the first lady, the foundation will lay the groundwork and sort through the list of potential bidders, Nesbitt said.
The foundation is responsible for developing a library that reflects Obama's values and priorities, according to Nesbitt. He said it will focus on economic opportunity, inspiring an ethic of American citizenship and promoting peace, justice and dignity around the world, among other things.
Nesbitt said the process for selecting the site will begin as early as next week, when interested bidders will be asked to submit a report outlining their capabilities for hosting the library. The field will then be narrowed, and the remaining bidders will be invited to submit a proposal, he said.
Among the criteria for choosing the site will be the bidder's ability to raise money for construction, which some experts said could cost up to $500 million.
Nesbitt said the foundation expects to make a final announcement in early 2015. He said the process will be open and transparent and will offer a "level playing field" for those who want to participate.
In Chicago, a half-dozen sites have been jockeying for the library. In addition to the U. of C., Chicago State University and the University of Illinois at Chicago also plan to bid on the library. Representatives in Pullman, Woodlawn and the Southeast Side have expressed interest in hosting the facility.
Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stirred a controversy by stating that there would be a unified proposal from the city. A single proposal, he said, would strengthen Chicago's chances of getting the library. Other challenges are expected to come from Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
Emanuel issued a statement Friday reiterating his commitment to securing the library in Chicago.
"With President Obama's deep roots here in the city — his hometown and where he launched his public life — Chicago is undeniably a natural fit for the Obama Presidential Library and Museum. Though we're excited to welcome the President home, we are not resting on our laurels and will put forward a competitive proposal so that his choice is an easy one," the statement said.