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Is the Obama Library Decision All About the Money?

UIC's proposed North Lawndale site may be even more of an underdog when we take funding into account.

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.

·Fundraising ability key to winning Obama library [Tribune]
·Previous Obama Library coverage [Curbed Chicago]