On a patch of land that used to be a garden in Jackson Park, groundbreaking was held today for the Obama Presidential Center — a half-billion-dollar monument to the former Chicago resident.
Like many big building projects in Chicago, this was a ceremonial event and not the actual start of construction. The playing fields were scraped up, the trees cut down, and this end of the park turned into a mucky work zone weeks ago. But today was the day for the ribbon cutting, the glad-handing, and the traditional grip-n-grin before adoring fans and their cameras.
It was a rare visit to the city for the president and his wife, Michelle, who decamped for Washington D.C. almost as soon as his term ended.
Since the center was announced back in 2014, construction of the complex has been delayed by a series of lawsuits, and even in the hours leading up to today’s event, Mr. Obama found himself defending its location. Community organizers worry that the Obama Center will bring tourists, but not much else to the neighborhood. They fear it will spur gentrification, raise the cost of housing, and eventually force locals to move elsewhere.
The Obama Presidential Center is not an official presidential library, though 2016 renderings of the plan titled it “Obama Presidential Library.” In order to be a presidential library, it has to house the former president’s archives. Those are the property of the National Archives and Records Administration, which runs the official Obama Presidential Library in virtual form.
The South Side Obama library, with a small “l,” is run by the Obama Foundation. Construction is expected to be completed in 2025.