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Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021

Project estimated to generate $3.1 billion in economic impact for Cook County and bring 700,000 visitors to the area each year to stimulate additional economic growth

Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021
Image © The Obama Foundation

After the conclusion of a robust four-year long federal review process for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), the Obama Foundation announces its intent to break ground on the Center in 2021 and begin recruiting a diverse workforce that will help make the OPC a reality. In anticipation of receipt of final documentation, the City of Chicago has scheduled the necessary pre-construction work, including relocating utility lines, in 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. The project serves as a catalyst for long-overdue investment in and around historic Jackson Park — creating a new destination to move visitors from hope to action, breathing new life into the park, and delivering amenities and economic benefits to the community the Obamas called home.

Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021
Image © The Obama Foundation

"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,” said President Obama in a video message to mark the conclusion of the federal reviews. “Michelle and I want to thank you for making this project even better — 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 still to come.”

The Obama Foundation estimates the construction costs of the Center and development of the parkland on-site will be nearly $500M. Pursuant to its agreement with the City, the Obama Foundation will bear 100 percent of the costs to construct and maintain the grounds and structures within the OPC site, turning over ownership to the City upon completion. The Foundation has elected not to pursue capital or operating subsidies from the City and will finance ongoing needs privately. To leverage the private investment in the area, the City will invest in infrastructure improvements throughout the South Side.

An economic impact study concluded the site will have a $3.1 billion economic impact and bring 700,000 visitors from around the world to the South Side each year, creating a catalyst for economic development that will reach across the area.

Upon completion, the Obama Presidential Center will serve as an economic and cultural nucleus for our city’s historic South Side,” said Chicago Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot, “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. Thus, the OPC’s impact will stretch beyond the borders of its campus and, in conjunction with other nearby capital improvements, it will ensure the long-term, economic prosperity of our South Side communities.”

Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021
Image © The Obama Foundation

Creating a Destination on the South Side & New Pathways to Leadership

The completed Obama Presidential Center will serve as a hub for the Obama Foundation’s work to inspire, empower, and connect the next generation of leaders—in Chicago and around the world. Plans for the Center include enriching an 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).

The campus includes a presidential museum that will celebrate the history of diverse groups of people working toward the common good, highlighting the challenges and accomplishments of the Obama Administration, and underscoring the important role that the South Side of Chicago played in shaping President and Mrs. Obama’s worldviews. It will be a place to honor history while inspiring young people to write chapters of their own.

In addition to the museum, the OPC campus will also include:

  • A branch of the Chicago Public Library that will be the first public library branch at a presidential center;
  • A contemplative, multi-purpose space at the top of the museum with vistas out to the surrounding neighborhoods;
  • A program, activity, and athletic center for recreation, community programming, and events;
  • Open green space and Great Lawn that will provide space for community and social gatherings, BBQs, new walking and biking trails, and a winding nature trail near the park’s lagoon;
  • A Children’s Play Area featuring an extensive playground with innovative recreation equipment for children of all ages that will offer four seasons of play;
  • Paying homage to Mrs. Obama’s garden from the White House, a Fruit and Vegetable Garden and Teaching Kitchen will be a place for young people and community members to learn.
Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021
Image © The Obama Foundation

Hiring a Diverse Workforce & Creating Thousands of Jobs

The Center will 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. It is estimated the Center will generate up to 5,000 direct and indirect jobs during and after construction.

The Obama Foundation and construction manager Lakeside Alliance, a joint venture of five construction firms, four of which are local and minority-owned, has started recruiting the necessary subcontractors and personnel to ensure a diverse workforce. The Foundation and its partners are investing significant resources to recruit a diverse workforce and subcontractors, particularly from the South and West sides, through a number of strategies including breaking up bid packages to level the playing field for smaller subcontractors to compete.

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

Obama Presidential Center Groundbreaking Announced for 2021
Image © The Obama Foundation

Strengthening Sustainability & Revitalizing Green Space

The Obama Foundation is committed to ensuring the Center preserves and enhances what has always made Jackson Park unique, while investing in long-term sustainability. The landscaping plan for the Center restores and embraces the rich history of the park, giving new life to Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of a cohesive, walkable, and iconic Jackson Park by reunifying parkland, planting new trees, increasing biodiversity, and providing newly expanded habitat for birds and wildlife. Components of the plan include:

  • Reunifying the park, which became disconnected by the addition of Cornell Drive, a six-lane highway built through the heart of the park many years ago. The restored parkland will remove barriers and seamlessly connect the park to the lakefront, unifying it with other South Side institutions.
  • Fostering greater sustainability by addressing current on-site ecological challenges, including the poor health of the trees, plantings that don’t offer enough biodiversity or environmental benefits, tenuous soil quality, and stormwater and drainage issues.
  • Planting more trees than are currently on-site and increasing biodiversity at all levels to bolster resilience while adding experiential value, habitat, and environmental improvements.

It is anticipated it will take four years to complete the construction process.

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