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Texas Has Big Plans for Bush Presidential Library

It's early in the second term, but a team is already looking for a site. Several cities and universities throw their hats in the ring.

June 09, 2005|Warren Vieth and Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writers

WACO, Texas — President Bush's aides contend that he hasn't thought much about what he will do when he leaves office in January 2009. But there are indications that plans are underway.

Bush has named a close friend, former Commerce Secretary Don Evans, to head the search for the location of his presidential library. Evans said he was being assisted by one of the president's brothers, Marvin Bush, and by Craig R. Stapleton, the husband of a Bush cousin and the nominee to be ambassador to France.

And in comments to the Los Angeles Times, Bush said that his return to private life probably would include work with Texas faith-based organizations that performed social services. He did not elaborate.

Bush will be 62 when his second term ends. The youngest former president was Theodore Roosevelt, who was 50 when he left the White House.

"He's going to be a very young man," said Evans, adding that he had not heard Bush talk about an intent to work with faith-based groups. "He will continue to serve his fellow man in some capacity. He's driven by serving others."

At the White House, officials declined to offer more details on Bush's plans.

"The president is focused on his agenda and the big priorities for the nation," spokesman Scott McClellan said. "He has not put any serious thought into what he may do four years from now.... He was simply speculating about something he might like to be involved with."

It was at the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents' Assn. in April that Bush said, without hesitation, that he probably would work with faith-based groups and concentrate on establishing his presidential library.

The comments offered the first glimpses of Bush's thinking about his life after he leaves office.

Evans said the library search committee had not set a target date for soliciting proposals from institutions that wanted to house the library.

But competition is underway.

Southern Methodist University in Dallas -- First Lady Laura Bush's alma mater -- is perceived as the front-runner.

But Baylor University has purchased more than 100 acres on the banks of the Brazos River near downtown Waco as a potential site for what might be a $100-million-plus library and museum complex. The Bushes' Texas home is in nearby Crawford.

Others parties declaring an interest include Texas A&M University in College Station, where Bush's father placed his library; the University of Texas at Austin, site of the Lyndon B. Johnson library; Texas Tech University in Lubbock; and the cities of Midland, where Bush grew up, and Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers -- the Major League Baseball team where Bush was a managing partner in the early 1990s.

Presidential libraries can be a significant prize for a community, driving tourism and economic growth and drawing an array of political and cultural figures.

Officials at the first President Bush's library, the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M, estimate that the institution creates $10 million in economic activity each year. That includes spending on meals and hotel rooms by visitors, as well as the museum's spending on salaries, security and materials for exhibits. About 138,000 people visited the museum last year.

"Whenever you have that many people going into a community, even when it is on a day visit, they are leaving money in the economy. So it's quite incredible," said Barry Biggar of the Bryan-College Station Convention and Visitors Bureau.

He said residents had benefited from seminars, lectures and cultural events at the library and museum.

In Texas, political handicappers have placed their bets on Southern Methodist University. Laura Bush not only received her undergraduate degree there, but also serves on the school's board of trustees. The Bushes are Methodists, and the university is in Dallas, where the president and first lady are expected to buy a home after they leave Washington.

An official said the school was taking nothing for granted in the competition.

"Everyone thinks SMU has an edge, but we haven't heard that from anybody that counts," said Tom Barry, the vice president for executive affairs and leader of the school's presidential library project.

Barry said the 10,900-student university began developing its library proposal shortly after Bush's inauguration in 2001. It has drafted a detailed plan and is ready to submit it as soon as the White House invites it to do so.

Laura Bush has no involvement in the project, said Barry, who declined to discuss whether the school's proposal contained any elements that dovetailed with the president's interest in faith-based programs.

"We've had a low profile in this whole process," Barry said. "That's the way we want to keep it."

Baylor has some assets it hopes will catch the president's eye. Among them is the Center for Religious Inquiry Across the Disciplines, a think tank created last year to study the effect of religion in American life.

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