Occidental declines to make bid for Obama presidential library

Barack Obama (far right) at Occidental College, with classmates Mike Malouf (from left) and Bill Knutson.
Barack Obama (far right) at Occidental College, with classmates Mike Malouf (from left) and Bill Knutson. Occidental College

Occidental College is not entering a bid to house a presidential library for President Barack Obama. The foundation developing Barack Obama's future presidential library has received 13 applications from groups that want to host the library, the Associated Press reports.

Obama spent two years at the Eagle Rock private college in the early '80s. That's where he made his first political public speech, calling for Occidental to participate in the disinvestment from South Africa in response to that nation's policy of apartheid.

"Colleges or universities that have a presidential library for an alumnus is a very small group," Occidental spokesman Jim Tranaquada told KPCC. "All of these are large research universities, and Occidental is a small liberal arts college with just 2,100 students. So there are some practical limitations to what we can offer."

RELATED: Obama among Occidental College students who pressed school to divest from South Africa

The window for organizations or cities to submit their initial proposals closed Monday, according to the AP. The Barack Obama Foundation isn't releasing the list of those who applied, but universities in New York and Honolulu both say they've applied.

Four of the confirmed bidders are from Chicago, the president's hometown, and a fifth was expected. Obama's birth state of Hawaii offered an oceanfront location in Honolulu. And Columbia University, where he got his undergraduate degree, pitched a West Harlem site in New York City.

Four of the five proposed Chicago locations are on the city's South Side. They are: the University of Chicago, where Obama taught constitutional law for 12 years; Chicago State University; vacant land in Bronzeville that was part of Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Olympics; and a former steel plant near Lake Michigan being pitched by real estate developer Dan McCaffery.

All see the library and museum as a potential driver of economic development. The University of Chicago cited a study it commissioned that concluded the library would draw 800,000 visitors a year and create 1,900 permanent jobs.

"We believe this could be an historic moment for the South Side," said Susan Sher, a senior adviser to University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer and the woman who is coordinating the school's push for library.

The University of Illinois-Chicago also is pitching potential locations on and off campus on the city's West Side.

Hawaii's bid is being led by the University of Hawaii and backed by the state. The library would sit on oceanfront property in Honolulu, but the university said it would be willing to share the library and museum.

"Hawaii is prepared to host the Obama Presidential Center in its entirety or to partner with another site to help the president create an institution with two campuses and a unified mission," said David Lassner, president of the University of Hawaii System.

Columbia's bid would put the library on its new Manhattanville Campus in West Harlem.

Chairman Marty Nesbitt said the foundation will run a fair process to evaluate whether each response captures the goals of Obama's library.

The foundation plans to cull the list and invite a small group of applicants to submit more formal proposals over the summer. Those proposals will be evaluated before a final decision is made early next year.

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