Hawaii submits proposal to host Obama Presidential Center

Rendering: Hawaii Presidential Center/Allied Works Architecture

On Thursday, Hawaii officials submitted a written proposal to host the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Honolulu.

The effort was coordinated by the University of Hawaii with the full backing of the State of Hawaii, the City and Council of Honolulu and numerous community partners, including the nonprofit group, Hawaii Presidential Center.

“President Obama is part of our Island family,” said Gov. David Ige. “We humbly suggest that Hawaii is the best place to build his Presidential Center. With our rich cultural heritage, mature visitor industry, and Asia-Pacific ties, we believe we can help President Obama create an institution that will carry forward his important work on a global stage.”

The proposal calls for a future-learning Presidential Center that cultivates young leaders and brings people together to solve global problems. Building on concepts included in Hawaii’s initial proposal submitted in June, this RFP response includes four principal program components: a K-12 Global Youth Leadership Academy; an action-oriented Convening Institute; a UH Center for Community Organizing; and an interactive, issues-based Visitor Center.

“We are proposing a Presidential Center that not only commemorates Barack Obama’s legacy, but also advances innovation, research and education,” said UH president David Lassner. “The President will continue to build upon his legacy once he leaves the White House, and this institution will help him continue to make a difference, not just in Hawaii but throughout the United States and around the world.”

The center would be built on eight acres of land in Kakaako-Makai, land that was set aside by the state through HCDA.

So far, the state has spent close to $400,000 to plan and design the center, as well as complete the proposal, which includes three conceptual designs by renowned architectural firms working in local-national partnerships: Snøhetta and WCIT Architecture; MOS and Workshop-HI; and Allied Works Architecture. Ferraro Choi detailed the structure’s Living Building Challenge potential.

On paper, the designs were not just meant to impress. They all had to incorporate the four spaces the Obama selection committee has in mind for the center. The one put forth by Snøhetta and WCIT Architecture features cafes, restaurants and courtyards on the first floor, all with having public space in mind. The design also has space for meetings, educational use and space for exhibits.

The Pacific Ocean played a big part in the design.

“Every team focused on the unique attributes of the site,” said WCIT Architecture president Rob Iopa. “Obviously, it’s a beautiful makai-based site with tremendous ocean views toward Diamond Head and through the coastline.”

The Hawaii team says the closeness to the ocean will make it one of Hawaii’s premier visitor attractions and that translates into an economic benefit.

“We anticipate anywhere between 1,000 to 2,000 new jobs just from the construction aspect,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who is leading the state government’s role in the project. “We anticipate anywhere between $25 million and $40 million in new state and city tax revenues.”

Supporters hope private donors from the West Coast, Asia and the Pacific would come through to pay to build it, but it won’t be cheap.

“We’re not looking at government funds to appropriate to build a center or a library,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). “These are private sector donations, and we’re talking about a price tag of $200 to $300 million.”

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is hoping the center will be more than just about the story of President Obama. “It’s about a place where the president can come, where he can meet with the leaders from Asia,” he said. “He can be working with the East-West Center and the faculty up at UH to bring Asia to Hawaii and to bring Hawaii to the rest of the world.”

In preparing this submission, Hawaii’s bid team sponsored independent research and reached a number of conclusions:

  • After its first 10 years of operations, the institution will have catalyzed more than $2 billion in new economic activity.
  • Because of the Hawaiian Islands’ robust visitor market, Honolulu’s favorable demographics, and the proposed site, which is centrally located between Waikiki and downtown, experts predict Hawaii will host one of the most visited presidential institutions in the United States.
  • Hawaii’s proposed programs will have independent revenue streams, which will enable them to operate on a self-sustaining basis once the facility is built.
  • Forward-leaning design and engineering will allow the Obama Center to achieve Living Building Challenge certification—beyond LEED Platinum—and serve as a model of resiliency and sustainability in coastal environments.
  • Hawaii is well positioned to assist a capital campaign led by the Obama Foundation by activating donors on the West Coast and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

In September, the University of Hawaii was selected as one of four finalists to host the Obama Center, along with Columbia University, University of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The President and First Lady are expected to make a decision on a location or locations in early to mid-2015. The Barack Obama Foundation will then lead a capital campaign and supervise design, construction and program operations.

There has been speculation that the three cities — New York, Chicago (which has two entries) and Honolulu — could actually host different aspects, or spaces, devoted to the center.

The architects who will ultimately design the Obama Presidential Center will be selected in a separate process supervised by the Obama Foundation.

Click here for more information on Hawaii’s efforts to host the Barack Obama Presidential Center.

Rendering: Hawaii Presidential Center/Snøhetta and WCIT Architecture
Rendering: Hawaii Presidential Center/Snøhetta and WCIT Architecture
Rendering: Hawaii Presidential Center/MOS and Workshop-HI
Rendering: Hawaii Presidential Center/MOS and Workshop-HI

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