Obama Center: A $1.5 Billion Endowment?

Recent federal requirements for presidential libraries call for significantly more private financing.


Cost estimates for the construction and maintenance of the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Chicago could lead to the establishment of an endowment as large as $1.5 billion.

The planned presidential library and museum will be the first since a 2008 amendment tripled the requirement for private fundraising support of presidential libraries. While the foundations behind the George Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush libraries raised endowments worth 20 percent of each library’s cost, the Presidential Historical Records Preservation Act states that all future presidential libraries must provide an endowment totaling 60 percent of the center’s outlay.

At an annual benefit for the LongHouse Reserve in New York, Obama Center architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien suggested the South Side library and museum could require a $1.5 billion endowment, according to a February report by the New York Post. An article by The New York Times in 2015 said Obama advisers were then projecting the need for a $1 billion endowment.

A representative for Williams and Tsien’s architectural firm declined to comment on the accuracy of the Post article and a spokeswoman for the Obama Foundation wouldn’t comment on the expected size of the endowment.

The Obama Center will be the 14th presidential library run by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the fourth to raise an endowment. Dedicated funds to support presidential libraries were first required by the Presidential Libraries Act of 1986 to “shift the ongoing building operations costs of future libraries from the taxpayer to endowment funds,” according to a May 1985 report by the House Committee on Government Operations.

The size of these funds has escalated since the rule was first enacted, with the endowment for the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum exceeding $500 million — more than triple the $165 million required for the Clinton library.


The Obama Center, to be set in Chicago’s Jackson Park, will house the archives of the Obama administration, as well as a museum about the lives of Barack and Michelle Obama. Construction of the buildings is expected to cost between $200 million and $300 million, according to the Post.

As of 2015 the Obama Foundation had raised $7.3 million, according to tax returns released since the foundation’s launch in early 2014. President Obama said he would not personally participate in fundraising for the foundation until the completion of his term, which ended January 20, and the foundation pledged not to accept donations from for-profit entities, federal lobbyists, or foreign nationals or agents while Obama was in office.

During his presidential campaigns, Obama successfully out-fundraised both his opponents and his predecessors, racking up nearly $750 million in 2008 and another $722 million in 2012. Top donors to the Obama Foundation so far include the family foundation of Star Wars creator George Lucas and Renaissance Technologies founder James Simons.

In December the foundation announced the hiring of David Simas as chief executive officer to “lead the foundation’s work to create the Obama Presidential Center.” Simas had served in various roles under the Obama administration since 2009, including most recently assistant to the president and director of political strategy and outreach.

The foundation’s board consists of several asset management executives, including J. Kevin Poorman, CEO of PSP Capital Partners and Pritzker Realty Group, and Michael Sacks, CEO of GCM Grosvenor.

John Rogers, the founder and CEO of Ariel Investments, also joined the board last year. Rogers, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, served as the co-chair of Obama’s inaugural committee in 2009 as he prepared to enter the White House.

Compiled by staff.