Barack Obama Presidential Center

Barack Obama Presidential Center
Logo of the Obama Foundation, the non-profit organization that is overseeing the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Center
Location Jackson Park, Chicago, Illinois
Coordinates 41°46′57″N 87°35′08″W / 41.78250°N 87.58556°W / 41.78250; -87.58556Coordinates: 41°46′57″N 87°35′08″W / 41.78250°N 87.58556°W / 41.78250; -87.58556
Construction start sometime in 2019
Completion date sometime after 2021
Named for Barack Obama
Architect Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and Interactive Design Architects:
Landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Site Design Group, and Living Habitats
Cost $500 million (estimated)
Management David Simas, CEO[1]

The Barack Obama Presidential Center is the planned presidential center of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.[2] It will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago, near the campus of the University of Chicago.[3] The university provides planning, support, engagement and programming.[4] Included within the center's plans is a new branch for the Chicago Public Library.[5] The nonprofit Obama Foundation will oversee the center's creation and its campus' construction, and partner with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to digitize the presidency records.[6][7]

Board and staff

The Obama Foundation board includes Chairman Marty Nesbitt, a close friend from Chicago; J. Kevin Poorman, president and CEO of PSP Capital Partners; David Plouffe; Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng; venture capital financier, John Doerr; Studio Museum in Harlem Director and Chief Curator, Thelma Golden;[8] fundraiser and former White House staffer, Juliana Smoot; investment managers John Rogers, and Michael Sacks, and former Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick.[9][10] Barack Obama has a home in Hyde Park.[11][12][lower-alpha 1] The foundation was formally established in January 2014.[13]

Louise Bernard, outgoing Director of Exhibitions at NYPL, was named director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center in May 2017.[14] Michael Strautmanis became the vice-president of civic engagement for the foundation in 2016.[15]

Planning and design

The University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the University of Hawaii, and Columbia University submitted proposals to host the institution.[16][17] In May 2015, the Barack Obama Foundation and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the foundation and the Barack Obama Presidential Center would be located in Chicago's South Side, and would be built in partnership with the University of Chicago.[18]

Local reaction

The selection of the South Side has broad local support for reasons of civic pride as well as of the economic development it would bring in the form of jobs and development. The nonprofit group Friends of the Parks opposes the loss of parkland to build the center and had threatened a lawsuit to block development.[18] In May 2018, the preservationist group "Protect Our Parks" filed a lawsuit, to prevent the part of Jackson Park, which dates from 1893, from being taken from the public and given to a private entity.[19] Mayor Emanuel was critical of the lawsuit.[20] Later that month, the plan to build the center was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission.[21]

The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, a coalition of 19 community and activist groups, is seeking a community benefits agreement to require that the Obama Foundation, in partnership with the City of Chicago, sets aside jobs for residents in the local communities, protect low-income housing and home owners, support and create Black businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools.[22] Some residents have concerns about rising property taxes and rents that could displace many of the low-income Black residents.[23] Recent rent increases for residents living directly across the street of the site location for the library has escalated concerns of displacement of residents, particularly those who have fixed incomes, and has drawn protests against local Aldermen who are in opposition of a community benefits agreement.[24] As of 2018, the Obama Foundation has so far refused to consider a community benefits agreement.[25]

Some faculty members signed a letter stating concerns about the design, raised questions about the estimated cost of transportation improvements, and stated that the plan is an "object-lesson in the mistakes of the past".[26] A counter-letter in support of the Obama Center was signed by other University of Chicago faculty in response.[27] The independent campus student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon wrote an editorial in support of the library that criticized the concerns raised by some faculty.[28]

The foundation has announced plans for community hiring.[29] An economic impact assessment estimates that about 28% of the 4,945 short-term construction jobs would go to South Side residents, with the remainder to the rest of Cook County. About 2,175 of the 2,536 long-term jobs would to go South Side residents, with the remainder to residents in rest of Cook County. It is estimated that the long-term jobs will bring in about $104 million in annual income to Cook County residents, or about $41,000 per job.[30] Some local community residents are concerned about the percentage of new jobs going to residents living in the neighborhoods directly surrounding the center. The Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition has asked that a majority of the jobs go to residents in the surrounding neighbors, that the jobs pay a living wage, and that jobs are set aside for hard-to-employ populations.[31]


A design advisory committee assisted in the selection of the architects. Members of the committee included sculptor Don Gummer (the husband of actress Meryl Streep); Ed Schlossberg of ESI Design (husband of Caroline Kennedy, the U.S. ambassador to Japan); Fred Eychaner, a Chicago radio station owner and Democratic financier; and Architectural Digest magazine editor Margaret Russell.[32] Seven architectural firms were announced as finalists in December 2015 from an initial list of 140 applicants:[32] John Ronan Architects, Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, SHoP Architects, Snøhetta, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.[33]

New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Chicago-based Interactive Design Architects were chosen in June 2016 to jointly lead the design and engineering of the center.[34][35] For the exhibition design, Ralph Appelbaum Associates, which worked on the National Museum of African American History, will lead a team including Civic Projects, Normal, and several local artists.[36] The landscape architect is Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, with Site Design Group, and Living Habitats.[37] A group, Lakeside Alliance, which includes, Turner Construction, and a consortium of local African-American owned firms, Powers & Sons Construction, UJAMAA Construction, Brown & Momen, and Safeway Construction will build the library.[38]

Two parks near the University of Chicago's campus, Jackson Park and Washington Park, were considered.[18] On July 29, 2016, the foundation announced the selection of portion of Jackson Park in the Woodlawn neighborhood. Jackson Park, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, already houses the Museum of Science and Industry and a golf course.[39]

Preliminary plans were unveiled in May 2017, involving three buildings in geometric shapes covered in light-colored stone, roughly 200,000 to 225,000 square feet (18,600 to 20,900 m2). The museum building (which will also include educational and meeting space) will be the tallest at 180 ft (55 m). The other buildings, a library building and a forum building, will be a single story. The latter building will feature an auditorium, restaurant, and a public garden. The library will be "the first completely digital presidential library in the country, with no paper records stored on site"papers will be stored at a separate National Archives and Records Administration facility.[40] In 2018, the center announced an agreement to place a Chicago Public Library branch within the complex.[5]

The unveiled plan incorporates the Jackson Park end of Midway Plaisance from the north (which would be readapted as a circular greenspace surrounding a water basin), and the entirety of the park's hockey field and adjoining parkland to the south, where the main buildings and new park landscaping are to be sited. As part of a wider plan to reclaim parkland and improve park safety, the project also necessitates the closure of South Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th Streets, a 6-lane thoroughfare that runs along the western park lagoon and the park's golf course from Midway Plaisance to South Shore.[40] Without improvements to other roadways that will accommodate local traffic, these closures will result in nine intersections in the area to operate over capacity causing substantial traffic delays. These infrastructure changes would not be paid for by the Obama Foundation, and would require government funding,[41] expected to cost the city $175 million.[42]

Construction and fundraising

Construction of the center was originally expected to begin in late 2018 and be completed in 2020 or 2021.[32] A federal review of the project began in late 2017, responding to the local criticism and attempting to assess whether the project affects Jackson Park's status on the National Register of Historic Places.[43] This review is expected to end in the summer or fall of 2018, and will determine the start date of construction if the plan is approved.[44] The architects said in February 2017 that construction of the center's museum and library would likely approach $300 million, and that the Center would likely need an endowment of $1.5 billion.[45] Until the site is ready, papers and artifacts from the Obama administration are being stored and processed inside a facility in suburban Hoffman Estates,[46][40] northwest of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Obama did not do major fundraising for the Center while still in office. In 2017, Obama reportedly was set to engage in a major fundraising effort for the Center.[45] On July 27, 2018, the Obama Foundation announced that groundbreaking for the Center would be delayed until sometime in 2019, and the center would not open in 2021, as was initially planned.[47]

See also


  1. "I spent almost 30 years in Chicago. It's where Michelle, where she grew up, where our daughters were born," he said. "Hawaii is home to me," the president said, but he considered Chicago his real home.[12]


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  3. "Obama Foundation Announces Jackson Park as Site of the Obama Presidential Center". Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  4. "FAQ on Obama Presidential Library". UChicago News. January 31, 2014. Retrieved February 28, 2018.
  5. 1 2 Bowean, Lolly (2018-05-02). "Obama Foundation announces new public library branch". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2018-05-02.
  6. "National Archives Announces a New Model for the Preservation and Accessibility of Presidential Records". National Archives. 2017-05-03. Retrieved 2018-05-03.
  7. Caputo, Blair Kamin, Katherine Skiba, Angela. "Obama Presidential Center breaks from National Archives model". Retrieved May 25, 2017.
  8. "Thelma Golden Knows That Showing Great Art Means Nurturing New Artists". Retrieved 2018-09-01.
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  12. 1 2 "Obamas likely to stay in DC for a few years". Reuters interview (rough cut with no reporter narration). March 3, 2016. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
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  14. Pashman, Katherine Skiba, Manya Brachear (May 31, 2017). "Louise Bernard named museum director for future Obama Presidential Center". Retrieved June 12, 2017.
  15. "The Barack Obama Foundation Announces Hire of Michael Strautmanis as Vice President of Civic Engagement - Obama Foundation". November 23, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
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  17. "Obama Foundation Issues RFP to Four Potential Hosts of Future Presidential Library". Barack Obama Foundation. September 15, 2014. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  18. 1 2 3 Bosman, Julie; Smith, Mitch (May 12, 2015). "Chicago Wins Bid to Host Obama Library". New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2018.
  19. Tony Briscoe (15 May 2018). "Federal lawsuit accuses Obama center organizers of pulling an 'institutional bait and switch'". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 June 2018. Protect Our Parks Inc. also claims in its lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court on Monday, that the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago don't have the authority to transfer public parkland to nongovernmental entity such as the Obama Foundation.
  20. Byrne, John (15 May 2018). "Emanuel says group that sued Obama center organizers doesn't 'understand the 21st century'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 15 May 2018.
  21. Bradley, Tahman (17 May 2018). "Obama Presidential Center approved by Chicago plan commission". WGN. Chicago. Assocaited Press. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  22. Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement Coalition
  23. "Woodlawn Displacement".
  24. "Protests of Rent Increases".
  25. "Obama: No Community Benefits Agreement".
  26. Drew Van Voorhis (January 29, 2018). "UChicago faculty denounce plans for Obama Presidential Center: 'object-lesson in the mistakes of the past' - The College Fix". Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  27. "News". Chicago Maroon. February 9, 2018. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  28. Editorial Board (2018-01-23). "Don't Relocate, Advocate". The Chicago Maroon. Retrieved 2018-06-19.
  29. "Obama Foundation Issues Request for Diversity Consultant for the Obama Presidential Center - Obama Foundation". Obama Foundation. September 29, 2017. Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  30. OPC Economic Impact
  31. Principles
  32. 1 2 3 Blair, Kamin (January 13, 2016). "Husbands of Streep and Kennedy advising on Obama Center architect". Chicago Tribune.
  33. Lynn Sweet, Seven firms make cut to design Obama Center in Chicago, Chicago Sun Times December 21, 2015
  34. "Obamas choose New York architects to design Chicago library and museum". Chicago Tribune. June 30, 2016.
  35. "The Obama Foundation Announces Architect Selection for Future Presidential Center". The Obama Foundation. June 30, 2016. Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  36. Obama Foundation exhibition designers Chicago Tribune
  37. Tan, Yao Xen (February 6, 2017). "Obama Foundation Chooses Landscape Architects for Presidential Library".
  38. "Obama Foundation Announces Lakeside Alliance as Construction Manager for Obama Presidential Center - Obama Foundation". Obama Foundation. January 5, 2018. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  39. Katherine Skiba, Obama Foundation makes it official: Presidential library will go up in Jackson Park, Chicago Tribune, June 29, 2016.
  40. 1 2 3 Angela Caputo, Katherine Skiba, Blair Kamin (May 4, 2017). "Obamas unveil design of presidential center in Chicago". Chicago Tribune.
  41. "OPC Mobility Improvements to Support the SLFP" (PDF).
  42. Lolly Bowean (27 July 2018). "Obama Foundation delays presidential center groundbreaking until next year". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 29 July 2018. the city is expected to make about $175 million in improvements
  43. Sweet, Lynn. "Feds launch review of Obama Presidential Center impact on Jackson Park", Chicago Sun-Times, November 26, 2017.
  44. Freund, Sara. "Obama Center scraps above-ground parking garage after neighborhood opposition", Chicago Curbed, January 9, 2018. Retrieved March 25, 2018.
  45. 1 2 Obama’s Library Architects Say Project May Need $1.5 Billion: Report, NBC Chicago (February 20, 2017).
  46. Skiba, Katherine (October 21, 2016). "Military Soon to Start Moving Obama's Papers to Hoffman Estates". Chicago Tribune. Washington DC. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  47. Bowean, Lolly (July 27, 2018). "Obama Foundation delays presidential center groundbreaking until next year". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 31, 2018.
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