Why not Kauai for Presidential Center?

Hawaii officials have formally submitted a written response advocating Honolulu as the host location for the Barack Obama Presidential Center. The effort is being led by the University of Hawaii with full support from the state of Hawaii and the City and County of Honolulu.

The reasons are compelling:

“As Obama’s home state, Hawaii is the ideal location for this type of presidential center,” said Hawaii Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui. “Our global orientation, multicultural population, robust visitor industry, and unrivaled natural beauty make Hawaii a logical destination to house and nurture the president’s legacy. On behalf of the state of Hawaii, we are committed to collaborating with the president’s foundation on establishing a premier presidential center in Honolulu.”

“President Obama took the values he learned growing up on Oahu to Washington, D.C., and used them to guide our nation and the world,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell. “Selecting Honolulu as the site for the Obama Presidential Center will add to Oahu’s status as a world-class visitor destination while cultivating the president’s legacy where it began.”

Sure, Honolulu sounds like a nice place for a center. The state of Hawaii, through the Hawaii Community Development Authority, has preliminarily set aside eight acres of prime, oceanfront real estate in Kaka‘ako Makai. The proposed project site is centrally located between downtown Honolulu and Waikiki and easily accessible by car, bus, bicycle, foot, and soon, by rail transit. 

That all sounds wonderful. We agree Hawaii is the perfect place for this center. But we can think of a better site for this Presidential Center than Honolulu, where traffic reigns supreme and where they can’t figure out a solution to their growing homeless population (they may ban them from sitting on sidewalks). Do we really want such a tribute to our president in such a place? No, not when we have an even better location in Hawaii. Where is this place? Why, right here. Kauai.

The Garden Isle would be much better than Honolulu. How so?

Consider:

• Kauai isn’t a madhouse of people like Honolulu. Finding this center would be much easier here, no matter where it is.

• Kauai was just voted the eighth best U.S. island in a national poll. Oahu didn’t even make the list. 

• Kauai is an island of fiercely independent people. This is a true Democrat stronghold and President Obama would be proud to have his center here. He’s supposed to be the president of the common man. There’s nothing common about champagne-sipping elitists in Waikiki. So what better place to show it than his center on Kauai?

• Kauai now has nonstop flights offered by Hawaiian Airlines from the Mainland.

• Kauai did not have a 1-11 football team last year.

• Kauai has the National Tropical Botanical Garden. We have the Na Pali Coast. We have Hanalei Bay and Waimea Canyon. Imagine if we had this Barack Obama Presidential Center.

• Kauai’s economy depends on tourism. Even if we don’t want to admit it and some will argue against it, we need visitors to come here and spend money, and visitor numbers are not exactly booming these days. The other cornerstones of this economy are PMRF and agriculture. This center would prove to be a major draw for folks to come here. With a vast majority of Hawaii’s 8 million annual tourists visiting cultural institutions, it is projected that a Hawaii-based Obama Presidential Center will rank among the most visited presidential centers.

“The Obama Presidential Center would bring transformative benefits to Hawaii,” said Tsutsui. “The pronounced economic impact would benefit Hawaii through out-of-state funding for the design and construction of the project and local job creation, not to mention the long-term benefits of enhanced public education, a boost for the visitor industry and launching programs that will improve lives in Hawaii and around the world.”

One major challenge is where to put this center on Kauai. There are locations in Lihue that could work. If plans fall through for a new resort at the site of Coco Palms, this presidential center could be ideal there, though a solution to increased traffic would be needed. There are other sites that could meet the criteria.

The submission team anticipates being asked to submit a formal proposal to the Barack Obama Foundation following the issuance of a request for proposals later this summer. President Obama is expected to make a final decision on sites in early 2015. President Obama could opt to have his presidential library and museum in one location or divide them among sites as President Clinton did. Once a site is selected, a capital campaign to design, build, endow and operate the facility would be directed by the Barack Obama Foundation after the president leaves office.

Is this proposal for Kauai the longest of long shots? Yes. Does it have any chance at all? No. But that shouldn’t stop Kauai’s leaders from organizing a submission team and trying to beat out Honolulu. Some ask why Kauai for the Barack Obama Presidential Center? We ask, why not?

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