The center will include a museum, a library, an amphitheater, athletic fields, green spaces and more

By Sean Neumann
February 04, 2021 12:50 PM
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A render of the Obama Presidential Center.
| Credit: Nike

After four years of federal reviews, construction is expected to begin on the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago's southwest Jackson Park neighborhood this fall.

Former President Barack Obama and the city of Chicago both announced the news Thursday morning. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press release that preliminary construction will begin as soon as April.

Obama, 59, said the official groundbreaking for the estimated $500 million project may begin as soon as August.

"Hopefully 2021 offers a turning point for our nation and our city," Obama said, in a video message released on Twitter. "And we also hope that the groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center can be an important part of that change."

In a press release, Lightfoot, 58, celebrated the long-awaited approval for construction to begin.

"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 the city's statement Thursday. "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 Chicago Sun-Times reported that the years-long review process was required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act because Obama had chosen to build the presidential center in Jackson Park, which is a site of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

The Jackson Park location was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, according to the Sun-Times.

A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center
| Credit: Nike
A mockup of a future library at the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago
| Credit: The Obama Foundation

Obama has said he opted to build a community-based center instead of a presidential library in order to bolster the Jackson Park neighborhood on the city's South Side, where former First Lady Michelle Obama grew up and where he began his political career, first being elected as a state senator there in 1996.

"From the beginning, Michelle and I knew there was only one place for the Obama Presidential Center: the South Side of Chicago," Obama said Thursday.

The center will include a 235-foot tower with a museum and a branch of the Chicago Public Library. Outside, the Obama Foundation said the center will also include a Nike-backed athletic facility complete with a dual football and soccer field, an auditorium, a restaurant, public meeting spaces, a park, a wetland area, as well as a vegetable garden, children's play areas and more.

The Obama Foundation estimated the center will generate more than $3 billion for the local economy, while up to 5,000 jobs will be created in the near future to help with construction.

In his video message, the former president called it "a space for the community, built in partnership with the community."

"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," Obama said.