Former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are slated to be in Chicago for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center on the South Side of Chicago Tuesday afternoon. Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot also are scheduled to attend.
The 19.7-acre site within Jackson Park has been cleared of trees, some road closures are already in place and city utility work is well underway. Trees will be repurposed into “playground equipment, furnishings, nurse logs to propagate site biology, or provided to local artists and artisans for work in and around Jackson Park,” a spokesperson told the Hyde Park Herald earlier this summer.
Obama had initially hoped to open his center in 2021. After years of federal reviews and lawsuits, his foundation now hopes for 2025. Opponents have not given up, with some proposing an alternative site and design in nearby Washington Park, continued efforts in court and voicing criticisms and documenting the changes in editorials and online.
Obama and his foundation say the center’s construction will increase green space and biological diversity in the park, in addition to spurring economic development and creating jobs on the South Side.
In August, the foundation declared a goal of raising $1.6 billion over the next five years for construction—whose price tag has climbed from $500 million in the early years to roughly $800 million as of this August—as well as the endowment to keep it running well into the future.
The Obama Center will not function as a traditional presidential library, a repository of official records of Obama’s eight years in office run by the National Archives & Records Administration and available for historians to study on site. Instead, Obama’s records were supposed to be digitized. Even that process is “on hold” as of mid-August, according to a statement from the national archives.
“Digitization plans are on hold,” a spokesperson said, because of COVID. The public can access administration records via the Freedom of Information Act beginning in January, however.