It was already the biggest cultural landmark to come to the South Side in a generation. Now it’s going to be the biggest financial injection into the region of Chicago in modern memory.
Just nine months after former president Barack Obama stated that he needed a billion dollars to build his presidential library and museum, that price is now reportedly $1.5 billion.
The news was broken by the New York Post’s Richard Johnson early last week.
One of the big reasons for the price hike is rules requiring presidential libraries to have significant endowments in order to keep them running. But even so, Obama Center architect Tod Williams tells the Post the price of the buildings alone will cost $300 million.
In the modern era, the cost of presidential libraries has exploded as they went from simple archives and museums to full-blown academic centers. Here are the most recent ones:
- George W. Bush Presidential Center: $500 million
- Clinton Presidential Center: $165 million
- George H.W. Bush Presidential Library: $43 million
- Ronald Reagan Presidential Library: $60 million
The Chicago Tribune railed against this trend in an editorial by Dan McGinn published last year, when it was thought the Obama library would cost a mere billion dollars.
The thoughtful, scholarly study of the presidency is important. So, too, is the celebration of a president by the community or state that launched his or her career. But $1 billion edifices are not just too expensive, they also stand in conflict with the very idea of citizen leaders.
Before the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955, what happened to a president’s papers was pretty random. They would end up in personal collections, private museums, the national archives, or were sometimes destroyed. This is because they were viewed as the personal property of the former president. In 1978, the Presidential Records Act was passed making them the property of the federal government. But for some reason, instead of that ending the Presidential Libraries tradition, it somehow touched off an arms race for the still-living former leaders to build bigger, better monuments to themselves, funded by their supporters.