SMU pushing for Bush library Effort's first goal: deciding potential site

Fourteen months into President Bush’s term, Southern Methodist University has launched a campaign to bring his future library to Dallas.

“Since Texas already has two presidential libraries” – Lyndon Johnson’s in Austin and the elder George Bush’s in College Station – “we believe Dallas would be an ideal location for the next one,” SMU president Gerald Turner said. “We have the location and the amenities for a beautiful site.”

SMU officials are interviewing local architects and are considering potential sites on and around the campus.

A coordinating committee chaired by Dr. Turner is overseeing the effort, and there are academic and facilities subcommittees. There’s also an external committee, led by oilman Ray Hunt.

“The four committees are all working toward one destination, and that’s preparing a viable proposal,” said Tom Barry, SMU’s vice president for executive affairs.

The committees’ initial goal, officials said, is to find a potential site for the library. Later, they will work on plans for the library facility and its programming, as well as fund raising.

Though Mr. Bush probably won’t make his decision for years, competition is already strong. Texas Tech University, Baylor University, the city of Arlington, the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University have expressed interest.

Some universities are further along in the process. For example, Baylor University has selected potential locations for a library and is working on drawings to send to the White House, said Larry Brumley, Baylor’s associate vice president for external affairs.

All of the parties interested in the library have unique bonds with Mr. Bush. Baylor, for example, is just west of the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Texas Tech is in West Texas, where Mr. Bush grew up.

Texas A&M could be the site of a father-son complex.

Arlington is home of the Texas Rangers, of which Mr. Bush was once part-owner.

The University of Texas is blocks from Mr. Bush’s old office in the Texas Capitol.

And SMU is Laura Bush’s alma mater and near their former home in Preston Hollow. It is also in the heart of one of the country’s biggest Bush political strongholds.

During the 2000 presidential campaign, Mr. Bush received more contributions from SMU’s home ZIP code, 75205, than from any other ZIP code in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

The ZIP code 75225, which encompasses the area immediately north of the university, was third on the list.

Dallas County GOP chairman Bob Driegert said the Park Cities area “is Bush country – very, very strong Bush country.”

“Many of the leaders in his campaigns came from the Park Cities,” Mr. Driegert said. “He has a lot of good friends there – people who he likes and who like him and who he feels very comfortable with.”

Whether that connection will sway Mr. Bush in favor of SMU remains to be seen.

The biggest challenge for the university could be finding a site for the library. Its 170-acre campus is surrounded by shopping centers on the west and by houses and condominiums on the north, south and east.

The largest open space is a cluster of playing fields at SMU Boulevard and Central Expressway.

If officials were to decide to build a library there, that would give them only 7.5 acres.

That might be enough room for a library similar to the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo., which looks like a post office, but is not comparable to recent presidential libraries. Bill Clinton’s $ 125 million library, for instance, will be on a 27-acre riverfront stretch.

Dr. Turner said size doesn’t matter. While freestanding libraries require room for amenities, the Bush library would have all it needs on the SMU campus, he said.

“The amount of land that you need for a library and museum is not that much,” Dr. Turner said. “Our site already has everything that you would build if you had excess land.”

Residents of the University Gardens Condominium complex, near Ford Stadium adjacent to the campus, said they are worried that their homes might be considered.

After a two-year public struggle with the complex’s homeowners’ association, SMU is expected to complete the purchase of a majority share of the 12-acre complex.

If a judge approves the deal, the university would control the homeowners’ association by summer 2003.

That leaves holdouts, some of whom are retirees, wondering about their homes. “It’s very difficult for me to contemplate moving,” said resident Rita Taubenfeld. “I’m 76; I’m really too old to move.”

SMU plans to use University Gardens for student housing in the short term, but it might consider it for the library down the road, officials said.

“That will be dealt with in due time,” Dr. Turner said.

Despite the competition and the obstacles, SMU officials said they have a good shot at becoming the host of the library. “We could offer a very developed, attractive setting,” Dr. Turner said, “with all that SMU and Dallas have to offer.”