Proposed Obama Presidential Center in Chicago
Presidential libraries have been in the news of late over speculation on what former President Trump might do wrt a library ("Will There Be a Trump Presidential Library? Don’t Count On It.," Politico).
The proposed Obama Presidential Center in Chicago won't be a traditional library because of various decisions made by the Obamas. The records won't be going to the library but will remain in the custody of the National Archives and Administration, which plans to put the records online.
(The memoir book by Robert Caro has a nice discussion of his looking at the LBJ archives box by box at the Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. There is great value in physical records, going through them, making serendipitous connections, etc.)Obama center in Jackson Park must deliver on 3 key pledges") about current negotiations and attestations about the Obama Center, which controversially will use park land.
Economic impact. One of the claims is that the Center will generate 700,000 visits per year and $3 billion in spillover economic development.
I think that's a stretch because no presidential library has consistently generated that high of an attendance year after year.
An economic impact study of the Clinton Center in Little Rock, Arkansas shows the difficulty of pinning down impacts in a realistic way. For example, how much of the $3.3 billion in development elsewhere in Downtown is attributable to the Clinton Center? Some of it certainly is, but not all.
Similarly, it states that there was at the time of the study, almost $700 million in travel expenditures. But much of that money isn't spent locally, e.g., airplane travel, hotel stay revenues repatriated to out of town owners, etc.
Still, the economic impact, especially in otherwise weak submarkets, can be important, and as a priming action, trigger the opportunity for spillover investment.
A key aspect is structuring retail and other functions proximate by off site to spread development effect outward.
Stoking attendance at presidential libraries. A few years ago the CT ran a great article ("10 ways to keep up attendance at a presidential library") with advice on how to maximize attendance at presidential libraries based on the experience of existing libraries.
It's worth reading regardless of the type of cultural institution you might manage.
However it's worth pointing out that attendance, techniques for boosting attendance, and average spending per visitor are different issues. For example, many visitation segments (children, college students) don't spend much money when they visit cultural institutions.
I do think the Obama Center has a better chance for higher attendance because it will be located in a major city. With the exception of the JFK Library in Boston and the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, most presidential libraries aren't located in major cities that are already experiencing high visitorship.
The ten lessons from the CT article:
- Location matters.
- Make events, programs free.
- Get to know the neighborhood.
- Partner with local universities.
- Appeal to schools [note that one problem with focusing on school groups is that students typically don't spend money on stuff and bring their own lunch]
- Focus on more than the president [this is in keeping with the idea of planning presentation at cultural attractions in terms of their location within different scales of history at the local, national, and international scale]
- Recruit a range of speakers.
- Change exhibits often.
- Celebrate anniversaries.
- Use technology.