FORT WORTH, Texas — For the most part, President George W. Bush has stayed out of the limelight since leaving the White House more than four years ago.
After moving home to Dallas, he spent time jogging, bicycling and relaxing.
He wrote a book, gave speeches and learned how to paint. He even recently became a grandfather.
This week, he steps back into the public spotlight as he and former first lady Laura Bush dedicate the $250 million George W. Bush Presidential Center — a three-story, 226,565-square-foot complex that includes a library, museum and institute — along the edges of the Southern Methodist University campus.
On Thursday, the center honoring the country’s 43rd president will be unveiled to the world during an invitation-only gathering of thousands of dignitaries, world leaders, family and friends. The event also features a reunion of “the world’s most exclusive club” — President Barack Obama and the four living former presidents.
“The significance of the dedication ceremony is greater than normal due to the very low profile Bush has kept since leaving office,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “Had he maintained the active public life of his immediate predecessor, the ceremony would not hold as much significance.”
But he didn’t — and it does.
On Thursday, thousands of high-profile guests join dignitaries, celebrities, leaders and media from around the world for an outdoor ceremony to formally dedicate the Bush presidential center.
The main dedication will be from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. A separate event to light Freedom Hall, a space topped with a 67-foot-tall, 50-by-50-foot “lantern” made from Texas Cordova Cream limestone that will glow at night, will be held from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
“President and Mrs. Bush will be joined by family, friends, supporters and special guests as they present this national treasure to the American people,” Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, recently said.
The center will open to the public on May 1.
The invitation-only event will be a rare gathering that includes President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush and their wives, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush.
Numerous other Bush family members — including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his son, George P. Bush, who is a 2014 candidate for Texas Land Commissioner — are expected as well.
Many involved in the administration of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney — such as former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former White House strategist Karl Rove, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former U.S. Ambassador Tom Schieffer — are believed to be among those invited to the dedication.
The red brick and limestone presidential center has been in the works since SMU was chosen as the site in 2008.
Many guests on Thursday for the first time will see the center that houses a library and a museum, presidential archives, a public policy institute, the Bush foundation and a 15-acre park, all honoring Bush’s two terms in office.
The center, designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscaped by Michael Van Valkenburgh, is located on a 23-acre site at SMU — Laura Bush’s alma mater — and features permanent and temporary exhibits, a Decisions Point Theater, a life-size “Oval Office” that looks as though it was taken straight out of the White House during Bush’s tenure from 2001 to 2009 and a Texas Rose Garden, a version of the White House Rose Garden with plants that flourish in the Texas heat.
The building also includes the “Cafe 43” restaurant, a museum store, classrooms, research rooms, offices, seminar rooms and an auditorium. Most materials for the complex, ranging from the pecan paneling inside to the bluebonnets outside, came from within 500 miles of Dallas.
Inside, there are more than 40,000 items from the Bush presidency, ranging from the 9 mm Glock pistol that Saddam Hussein had when he was found in a spider hole in Iraq, to the bullhorn that Bush used when visiting ground zero after Sept. 11. Other items include more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos.