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How Much Will Obama Library Cost, Who's Paying and What Will Be In There?

By DNAinfo Staff | May 11, 2015 5:09pm
 What will be in the new Obama presidential museum? Likely some Chicago sports memorabilia.
What will be in the new Obama presidential museum? Likely some Chicago sports memorabilia.
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Getty Images/File Photo

The official announcement that the Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum will be located in Chicago has raised a number of questions about cost, tax dollars, how many people will come and what the heck is in those museums, anyway?

Who's paying for the library?

The Obama library, expected to cost over $500 million, is being paid for so far by private donations, though the city is giving the project 20 acres of land in either Washington or Jackson parks.

An effort by the state legislature to contribute $100 million in state funds has been shelved with Illinois facing serious debt and some Republicans objecting. However, the idea could come back, some say.

Among the private donors so far are Chicago investment banker Michael Sacks and Fred Eychaner, a local media mogul who is a frequent contributor to Democratic candidates and liberal causes. Both have donated between $501,000 and $1 million. 

Once the libraries are built, they are handed over to the National Archives, which pays for operations with federal money. The facilities are staffed by federal employees and the cost is about $70 million per year for all 13 libraries, according to the Economist.

The Obama organization must, however, come up with an endowment equal to about 60 percent of the cost of constructing the library to cover operating shortfalls in the future.

How many people visit?

A study commissioned by the University of Chicago estimated that 800,000 visitors per year will come, including 350,000 from outside the Chicago area.

That number is about twice the number of visitors to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif., currently the nation's most popular. However, the study argues that the Obama library will be "the nation's first truly urban presidential library" with better public transportation and access to a larger base of potential visitors.

Also, as the first African-American president, Obama's life will likely be popular, they reason.

By contrast, the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum in Atlanta draws about 53,000 annually.

The George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and MUseum in College Station, Texas attracted about 136,000 visitors in 2014. [Getty/File Photo]

How much is the Obama library worth to the city?

Visitors would spend $31 million on food and retail, enough to support 30 new restaurants, 11 retail outlets and a new hotel, says the U of C study. Construction costs of the library were estimated at $380 million.

What's going to be in there?

Presidential libraries hold the official and personal papers of the presidents. More than 10,000 scholars use the museums annually.

There are also artifacts. At the library devoted to Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York one can see his leg braces, lucky election hat and the engagement ring he gave to Eleanor Roosevelt. The John F. Kennedy Presdiential Library and Museum in Boston has JFK's famous rocking chair and a camera his wife Jackie used when she was a photographer for the Washington Times Herald. The Bill Clinton library in Little Rock Ark. stores some 150,000 gifts given during his two terms, including a number of saxophones.

A good bet for Obama: Chicago professional sports gear.

FDR's leg braces. [Roosevelt Library and Museum]

What else goes on at a presidential library?

The libraries also serve as venues to host events unrelated to the presidents. For example, this summer the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Libray, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abiline, Kansas will feature an exhibit "Patios, Pools, and the Invention of the Backyard" and the Richard M. Nixon facility in Yorbal Inda, Calif. is displaying spacesuits. There are also academic conferences, such as a recent gathering of scholars who discussed Nixon's impact on Native Americans. 

What's Obama's library going to look like?

No designs have been released yet, though a number of firms have come up with some ideas. Tanzania-born architect David Adjaye is rumored to be a favorite. He is the designer of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture. [Smithsonian]

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