By Jamie Stengle
DALLAS — The nation’s five surviving presidents will gather Thursday for the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, a much-anticipated event expected to draw around 10,000 people to Southern Methodist University amid tight security from local and federal law enforcement.
The invitation-only ceremony was expected to include speeches from President Barack Obama, former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush.
“It really is a day to give thanks,” Bush said in brief comments Wednesday before his presidential library and museum were handed over to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Protesters were expected to gather across the freeway from the Bush center during the dedication. Beginning Wednesday evening, city officials were closing some secondary streets near downtown Dallas and immediately around the Bush center.
Paul Maurer, assistant special agent in charge of the Dallas office of the Secret Service, declined to comment on specific security measures but said authorities were “comfortable with the plan we have in place.”
“We’ve been planning this for a long time and we’re confident we’re in good shape,” he said.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which will house the presidential library and museum along with the 43rd president’s policy institute, will be dedicated in a ceremony Thursday morning. The center opens to the public on May 1.
This evening there will be a ceremony to mark the lighting of “Freedom Hall,” a 67-foot-high “lantern” made of limestone which is a focal point of the center. The evening ceremony, in which members of the SMU community and neighbors are invited to as well, will end with fireworks.
On Wednesday, the George W. Bush Foundation and the National Archives signed the joint use agreement in which the library and museum portion of the center are given to the National Archives, which makes presidential records and artifacts available to the public.
Bush’s library is the 13th operated by NARA and the third presidential library to be built in Texas. Bush’s father’s library is in College Station on the campus of Texas A&M University, while Lyndon B. Johnson’s library is in Austin on the campus of the University of Texas.
Besides the presidential reunion, former Bush adviser Karen Hughes said the dedication will be chance for former Bush staffers to catch up.
“When you go through so many challenging events with a group of really dedicated colleagues, it forms a really close bond,” Hughes said.
In November of 2003, Baylor University proposed that the George W. Bush Presidential Library Center be in Waco. Baylor was in the final running for the Bush Library, but in the end the honor went to SMU.