Chicago has been through design briefs, debates over the use of public parkland, a late-in-the-game land transfer and even a delayed decision caused by a mayoral runoff. But, it turns out all the drama about the Obama Library may just boil down to cold, hard, cash. A Trib article looking at the economics of landing a presidential library said while it's not about the highest bidder, the institution with the best fundraising track record often wins out. According to David Jones, a presidential library consultant quoted in the article, "private universities typically have more history and success in fundraising than do public universities," suggesting that the UIC bid is a longshot, especially with the specter of funding cuts from Rauner that would take a roughly $60 million chunk out of the public university's budget. Just stacking up endowments -- UIC has $265 million compated to University of Chicago's $7.5 billion -- to suggest fundraising reach, while acknowledging that UIC can't spend public money on the project, makes the west side school seem like even more of an underdog.
A Bush-era law makes fundraising prowess a much more desirable quality for a potential suitor in this case, because future Presidential Libraries, including Obama's, need an endowment equal to 60 percent of the construction cost. With an expected price tag north of $500 million, whichever insitution wins will need to fall back on more than a few well-heeled alumni. To illustrate it's point, the Trib pointed to the battle between Baylor and SMU to host Dubya's library. While underdog Baylor went so far as to purchase a 150-acre and line up $114 million in potential pledges, SMU, with a better track record of bringing in big donations, won out in the end.