Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Insight Hawaii officials submitted a formal bid last week touting Honolulu as the ideal location for the Obama presidential library, outlining an early plan to build a comprehensive facility that would include an interactive museum and visitor center on an 8-acre oceanfront site in the city’s Kaka‘ako district.

The project could generate as much as $556 million in economic spending and more than 2,130 jobs during just the development stage, according to the proposal’s research.

The presidential center would also likely attract a substantial number of Oahu travelers, sustaining “a visitor count of more than 330,000 annually [and] making it one of Honolulu’s top five cultural attractions,” according to the proposal’s official website,

ShaneNelson“If we were to have a presidential center here, I think it would quickly become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Hawaii,” the state’s lieutenant governor, Shan Tsutsui, told Travel Weekly. “Without a doubt I think it would enhance the visitor experience, and I think it will really provide a great opportunity to know more about our Hawaii-born president.”

The president was born in Honolulu and spent a great deal of his childhood growing up on Oahu, later attending the island’s renowned Punahou high school.

There are several other suitors vying for the right to build the Obama library and center, including a number of universities around Chicago and Columbia University in New York.

“What I think makes Hawaii stand out is that we’re united,” Tsutui said. “We are speaking with one voice. We have the commitments from the University of Hawaii, from the city and county of Honolulu, from the mayor, and our state administration all within just one proposal. Unlike Illinois, where they have several different universities vying for the presidential library.”

Possible site for Obama presidential library.Tsutui noted that while Hawaii officials would certainly be happy if Honolulu was chosen as the only site for the presidential library and center, the Aloha State is also OK with sharing the responsibility should Obama ultimately decide to split things up — perhaps in a fashion similar to President Clinton’s choice to base his library in Little Rock, Ark., but to also have a presidential center in New York.

It’s tough to imagine any of Hawaii’s competitors offering a more photogenic location, however, than the site officials have chosen in Kaka‘ako. While the waterfront area is certainly urban, the backdrop, featuring unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and postcard vistas facing both Diamond Head and the Waianae mountain range, is certainly a showstopper.

That area of town has another ocean-related appeal that Tsutui felt might make the Hawaii proposal stand out for the president.

“There’s also a lot of good body surfing right out front there,” he said of the Kaka‘ako site with a laugh, referring at least in part to a famous AP photo taken of then-candidate Obama body surfing several years ago on Oahu’s east coast.

“I’m assuming there will be some additional shave ice stands set up as well,” Tsutui continued with another laugh, mentioning one of the president’s favorite Oahu treats during his annual Christmas vacations to the island.


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