What does it take to impress the president of the United States?
That question was foremost in the minds of SMU President R. Gerald Turner and the Board of Trustees for several years. They began to ponder it when they decided that SMU should compete to house the George W. Bush Presidential Center, including the library and museum run by the National Archives and Records Administration and the independent Bush Institute reporting to the Bush Foundation.
The quest began in December 2000, when the Board of Trustees appointed a steering committee including Turner, trustees Ray L. Hunt ’65 and Jeanne L. Phillips ’76, and the late Fred Meyer, former chair of the Texas Republican Party. Trustee and attorney Mike Boone ’63, ’67 later joined the steering committee to help guide legal negotiations once SMU was selected.
Hunt, Phillips and Boone represent numerous alumni who supported the process. Even though SMU leaders occupied the top of the planning pyramid, many others helped to build a foundation of support that transcended political leanings.
“It does not matter if you agree or disagree with President Bush on his programs and actions as head of state,” Hunt says. “His papers and artifacts will tell the story of a unique eight-year period in U.S. history. The Bush Presidential Center is bringing invaluable resources for research, dialogue and programming to SMU and Dallas, making us a global destination for scholars, dignitaries and visitors of all ages.”
To become that destination, SMU competed against six other institutions (see timeline), all of which received a request for proposal in July 2005 from the Bush Library Selection Committee.
As part of its proposal, SMU developed print and electronic materials to distinguish SMU from its competitors. Most had more land, but were not centrally located in a major metroplex, where the Bush Center would be an integral part of both campus and community. To show that advantage, SMU commissioned a detailed scale model of the entire campus. The 6-foot by 6-foot model was part of SMU’s proposal package traveling by truck to Washington, D.C., for presentation to the Library Selection Committee by Turner, Hunt and Phillips.
Jeanne Phillips remembers the meticulous work involved. To check on construction of the miniature campus, she visited the model makers in their Pennsylvania workshop.
“There were six guys in a small warehouse gluing leaves on trees and enjoying every minute of their day. Their mastery of detail was amazing, and I enjoyed watching the campus come to life under their skilled hands. This trip fell into the category of ‘the Devil is in the details!’”
Phillips speaks from experience. In April she chaired dedication events of the Bush Center and serves with Hunt and Turner on the national finance executive committee for the Center. Previously she raised funds for the state and national campaigns of George W. Bush and oversaw three of his four inaugurations. From 2001-2003 she served as his appointee as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. She is now senior vice president at Hunt Consolidated, which Ray Hunt leads as CEO.
Attention to detail of a different sort became SMU’s focus after December 21, 2006, when the Bush Library Selection Committee announced it was focusing solely on SMU as the possible site. That began negotiations involving, not surprisingly, more details.
Mike Boone, founding partner of Haynes and Boone, LLP, served on the Board of Trustees committee overseeing contract negotiations between SMU and the Bush Foundation. “Two law firms did the legal work while I was focused on the business terms from a trustee perspective,” he says. Working with Leon Bennett, then SMU vice president for legal affairs, Boone served over the entire 13 months that it took to negotiate the agreements, signed February 22, 2008. The result is a portfolio of contracts on issues ranging from terms of the ground lease to height limitations on surrounding campus structures, totaling 144 single-spaced pages.
The biggest challenge was developing contracts “cut out of whole cloth,” Boone says. “We had to be very thoughtful since there were no forms to be followed.”
Thoughtful and meticulous also describe Ray Hunt’s involvement with the Bush Center project. From the beginning, he and Turner immersed themselves in every detail to show that “SMU is the best place for the Bush Presidential Center to be successful,” Hunt says.
“We emphasized that our strong academic programs would contribute to the vitality of the Bush Center as a national historic treasure,” Turner says. “And we offered a resource that our competitors could not – a partnership with a dynamic city and location offering easy access to the public. We also pointed out that we have experience hosting high-profile events. We felt the entire package of SMU’s assets made us a strong competitor, but nothing could be taken for granted. We worked hard to prove our worthiness.”
As members of the Bush Foundation’s finance executive committee, Hunt and Turner had the dual challenge of helping to raise funds for the Bush Center and SMU’s Second Century Campaign, which Hunt co-chairs. He and Turner were convinced that both campaigns could succeed on parallel tracks, and they have. The Bush Foundation has surpassed its goal to raise $300 million to construct the center and over $200 million for operations, programs and endowment. “We have more than 310,000 donors to the Bush Center from all over the world,” Hunt says, “and most have had no SMU connection
until now.” And as of May 2013, SMU had raised $732.5 million toward its $750 million campaign goal.
“This means that over $1.2 billion has been raised in the past four years for programs benefiting SMU,” a figure that will grow as SMU’s campaign concludes in 2015, Hunt adds.
Boone, chair-elect of the SMU Board of Trustees, looks forward to the Bush Center’s economic impact on Dallas. “The city and our region were key to SMU securing the Presidential Center. The SMU-Dallas partnership of 100 years has worked again to the benefit of each partner.”
Phillips also credits the SMU community, “which is made up of very generous individuals,” she says. “They captured the vision of what a great Presidential Center will mean to SMU and our nation.”
Pointing to “the incredible leadership of Dr. Turner,” the impact of trustees and alumni, the strengths of the Dallas and SMU communities, and the careful consideration of the Bush Library Selection Committee, Hunt concludes: “The stars were aligned in bringing all this together.”
– Patricia Ann LaSalle M.L.A. ’05
December: SMU forms trustee and staff committees to develop a proposal.
Other competitors emerge: Texas A&M, University of Dallas, University of Texas at Austin (system), University of Texas at Arlington (with the City of Arlington), Baylor University, a West Texas coalition consisting of Texas Tech University in Lubbock and Midland College.
November 15: SMU makes its presentation to the Selection Committee in Washington, D.C., along with other competitors.
December 21: The Library Selection Committee announces it is focusing on SMU as the possible site; contract negotiations begin.
February 22: The SMU Board of Trustees and George W. Bush Foundation Board approve agreement establishing SMU as the site of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. Public announcement is made.
November 16: Groundbreaking is held for the Bush Center.
April 25: George W. Bush Presidential Center is dedicated.
May 1: George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum open to the public.