Obama announces his presidential center will officially break ground in Chicago this year

Obama announces his presidential center will officially break ground in Chicago this year
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Former President Obama announced Wednesday that construction for his state-of-the-art presidential center in the South Side of Chicago will commence later this year.

“I’m proud to announce that the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) will officially break ground in 2021,” Obama announced on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our hope is that the center will breathe new life into historic Jackson Park while delivering jobs, growth, and much more to the South Side,” he continued. “Let’s get to work.”


The Obama Foundation acknowledged in its announcement about the planned groundbreaking earlier on Wednesday that the construction comes after “the conclusion of a robust four-year long federal review process” for the center.

The center is set to be constructed in Jackson Park. The park is on the National Register of Historic Places, so the federal review was necessary.

Obama said in a video message accompanying the tweet on Wednesday that he and former first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaO.T. Fagbenle to play Barack Obama in Showtime anthology 'The First Lady' Gillian Anderson to play Eleanor Roosevelt in series on first ladies Obama, Springsteen launch eight-episode podcast MORE knew “from the beginning” that there was only place for the center: the South Side of Chicago.


“It’s where I met Michelle. Just a couple miles from where she grew up. Where Sasha and Malia were born. Where I became a community organizer and won my first election,” he said. 

“The past 12 months have been among the most challenging in our history,” he continued. “I know they’ve hit Chicago hard, particularly for residents on the South and West sides who have shouldered devastating health consequences from COVID-19, faced higher unemployment rates and more.”

“But hopefully, 2021 offers a turning point for our nation and our city. And we also hope that the groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center can be an important part of that change,” Obama added, touting the jobs and economic opportunities he said the center plans to create for local residents.

The couple also said years back that they decided on the park because of the location, citing the possible benefits they said the center could offer nearby areas that were struggling.

However, at the time, the decision to develop the center at the park also prompted fears from some locals who said the new project could cause nearby areas to become gentrified.

In its own announcement on Wednesday, the Obama Foundation said the project was estimated to generate over $3 billion "in economic impact for Cook County" and “create new economic opportunities, especially for South Side residents.” 

“The Foundation has committed to awarding 50 percent of the subcontracting packages to diverse vendors, exceeding the city’s goal of 26 percent and 6 percent commitment to MBE/WBE vendors, based on the belief that the team that’s building the center should look like the community it calls home,” the foundation said. It added that it estimates the center will bring in "up to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs during and after construction."

The foundation named Lakeside Alliance, which it described as a joint venture with four local and minority-owned construction firms, as its construction manager for the project and said it has “started recruiting the necessary subcontractors and personnel to ensure a diverse workforce.”

“For many small vendors, getting a chance to work on a project of this size and complexity will allow subcontractors to not only profit from the project, but gain the necessary experience to allow them to compete for similar, large-scale projects in the future,” Lori Healey, Obama Presidential Center Implementation Lead, said in a statement.

“We are committed to creating opportunities for diverse vendors because we believe the team building the Center should look like and benefit our community,” Healey added.

Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot also said in a statement that she believes the center will "serve as an economic and cultural nucleus for our city’s historic South Side."

“In addition to attracting visitors from all over our city and around the world, the OPC will also bring in new businesses and create new jobs — providing residents in the surrounding communities with the resources they need to lead happy, fulfilled and stable lives," she said, adding that it center's impact will also "ensure the long-term, economic prosperity of our South Side communities.”

The foundation said development for the park will stretch across a "19.3-acre section of the 540-acre Jackson Park—more than 90 percent of which will remain open greenspace that is free and accessible to the public (18.1 of the 19.3 acres)."

It added that the OPC campus will also feature a presidential museum, a “program, activity, and athletic center” and a children’s play area, and that it will pay homage to the former first lady’s White House garden with a “Fruit and Vegetable Garden and Teaching Kitchen” that will serve as a space “for young people and community members to learn.”

So far, the foundation said pre-construction work for the center, which includes the relocation of utility lines, has been scheduled by the city for April.

“Construction of the OPC will follow in the second half of this year, starting with preliminary roadwork and then physical construction as early as August,” it added.