Obama center in Chicago, estimated at $500M, to break ground this year despite complaints, officials say

on Feb4
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After years of delays and a federal review, construction on the planned $500 million Obama Presidential Center will begin later this year in Chicago, officials said Wednesday.

The largely privately financed construction is expected to take about four years to complete, with taxpayers expected to pick up the tab for an estimated $174 million in related roadway changes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The planned project has faced complaints from residents in the city’s South Side neighborhood, who have argued that the facility – to be composed of a public library and other features – would displace some of the area’s Black residents.

Others opposed planned changes to Jackson Park, the 540-acre recreation area that will host the 19-acre center, the Sun-Times reported. Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was a site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition and was designed by famed architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, according to the newspaper.


Former President Barack Obama.

Former President Barack Obama.

Herb Caplan, president of Protect Our Parks, which opposed the project with a lawsuit in May 2018, said Wednesday that a new legal action “will soon be filed” against the Obama Foundation’s plans, the Sun-Times reported.

Community objections include opposition to a $5 million branding deal with Nike to fund the center’s athletic facility, according to the Chicago Reporter.

Those potential obstacle weren’t addressed in a video message released Wednesday by Barack Obama, the nation’s 44th president.

“Getting to this point wouldn’t have been possible without the folks in the community who have been a part of this process along the way,” Obama said. “We know that by working together, we can unlock the South Side’s fullest potential – and help set up our city, our country and our world for even better years to come.”

Site preparation, including the rerouting of sewer, water and electricity lines, will begin in April, with construction set to get underway in August, officials with the Obama Foundation said, according to The Associated Press.

A groundbreaking will likely take place in the early fall, Lori Healey, who is overseeing the project, told the Sun-Times.

The multi-building project, planned for a 19-acre portion of Jackson Park, will include a museum, public library, athletic center, children’s playground and test kitchen, the AP reported. It is being financed through private donations, with the Obama Foundation also pledging to donate up to $3.5 million for a public facility for track and field competitions.

It will not include a formal “presidential library” because Obama did not want to deal with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) rules that would apply to such as designation, the Sun-Times reported.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrated the news about the next stage in developing the center.

“With this final step in the review, Chicago is now officially the home of the presidential center for our country’s first Black president, Lightfoot said in a statement. “The Obama Presidential Center and nearby capital improvement projects will undoubtedly distinguish our city’s historic South Side as a world-class economic and cultural hub.”


The neighborhood is where former first lady Michelle Obama grew up and where the former president launched his political career as an Illinois state senator.

Chicago city officials said Wednesday’s announcement came because a federal review of the plan that was launched in November 2017 has now been completed, the Sun-Times reported, though the newspaper noted that city officials had not yet received a “receipt of final documentation” regarding the review.


The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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