Barack Obama Presidential Center
The Barack Obama Presidential Center is the planned presidential library of Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States. It will be located in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago, near the University of Chicago campus. The university provides planning, support, engagement and programming. Included within the center's plans is a new branch for the Chicago Public Library. The nonprofit Obama Foundation will oversee the center's creation and its campus's construction, and partner with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to digitize the records of Obama's presidency. In August 2018, the Chicago Park District began related construction which it suspended in September. Federal review ended in December 2020 with construction having begun in 2021.
|Barack Obama Presidential Center|
|Location||Jackson Park, Chicago, Illinois|
|Named for||Barack Obama|
|Cost||$500 million (estimated)|
|Management||David Simas, CEO|
|Design and construction|
|Architect||Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, and Interactive Design Architects:|
Landscape architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Site Design Group, and Living Habitats
44th President of the United States
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; fundraiser and former White House Social Secretary Julianna Smoot; investment managers John Rogers and Michael Sacks; and former Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick. Barack Obama has a home in Hyde Park. The foundation was formally established in January 2014.
Louise Bernard, outgoing Director of Exhibitions at NYPL, was named director of the Museum of the Obama Presidential Center in May 2017. Michael Strautmanis became the vice-president of civic engagement for the foundation in 2016.
The library ultimately received bids from four institutions:
- Columbia University (New York City)
- University of Chicago (Chicago)
- University of Illinois at Chicago (Chicago)
- University of Hawaii (Honolulu)
In May 2015 the library's board announced it had decided to build the library in partnership with the University of Chicago. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004.
After the library's board had selected to build the library in partnership with the University of Chicago they began deciding between two possible locations, Washington Park and Jackson Park. They ultimately selected Jackson Park.
In 2018, the Obama Foundation released the proposed bid by the University of Chicago, and the three other universities. The 2014 bid revealed that the University of Chicago included various plans, such as combining the golf courses at South Shore and Jackson Park into a single “world class facility,” and the closing of Cornell Drive and other streets in the vicinity of Jackson Park in order to improve the connecting green space for museums located in a nearby area known as "Museum Campus South".
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. 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.
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 former U.S. ambassador to Japan); Fred Eychaner, a Chicago radio station owner and Democratic financier; and Architectural Digest magazine editor Margaret Russell. Seven architectural firms were announced as finalists in December 2015 from an initial list of 140 applicants: John Ronan Architects, Adjaye Associates, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, SHoP Architects, Snøhetta, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.
In June 2016, the foundation chose New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects and Chicago-based Interactive Design Architects to jointly lead the design and engineering of the center. 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. The landscape architect is Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, with Site Design Group, and Living Habitats. 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.
Two parks near the University of Chicago's campus, Jackson Park and Washington Park, were considered. 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.
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, a 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. In 2018, the center announced an agreement to place a Chicago Public Library branch within the complex.
The unveiled plan incorporates the Jackson Park end of Midway Plaisance from the north (which would be readapted as a circular green space 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, between 60th and 67th streets, of South Cornell Drive, a 6-lane thoroughfare that runs along the western park lagoon and the park's golf course from Midway Plaisance to South Shore. 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, expected to cost the city $175 million.
Community Benefits Agreement
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, set aside jobs for residents in the local communities, protect low-income housing and home owners, support and create Black businesses, and strengthen neighborhood schools. Some residents have concerns about rising property taxes and rents that could displace many of the low-income Black residents. Recent rent increases for residents living directly across from the library site 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. As of 2018, the Obama Foundation has so far refused to consider a community benefits agreement.
The foundation has announced plans for community hiring. 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.
In July 2019, local aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston introduced an ordinance aimed at protecting affordable housing near the development. The ordinance would require 30% of new units built in a 2 mile radius of the development to be affordable and offer right of first refusal for nearby tenants, among other benefits. The ordinance earned support from nearly 30 aldermen in Chicago City Council. In January 2020, Mayor Lori Lightfoot's administration announced that it would support a scaled-back version of a Community Benefits Agreement ordinance, but Taylor re-iterated support for the original ordinance.
In July 2020, the Lightfoot administration and aldermen Taylor agreed on a compromise ordinance that went further than the administration's earlier proposal. The compromise ordinance would require that 30% of units on 52 city-owned lots in Woodlawn be reserved for residents making between 30% and 50% of the Area Median Income, that any building refinanced through the Preservation of Existing Affordable Rentals program must reserve 10% of units for those making less than 30% of the AMI and 10% for those making less than 50% of the AMI, that the city's Housing Department request $675,000 in federal funds to support a local program to promote homeownership among current residents, and that eligibility restrictions be loosened for Woodlawn’s Home Improvement Grant Program. The compromise was reached after negotiations between the administration, aldermen Taylor and Hairston, the CBA Coalition, and other community groups. Taylor called the compromise ordinance a "step in the right direction" and, along with members of the CBA coalition, called for further action.
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. 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. Mayor Emanuel was critical of the lawsuit. Later that month, the plan to build the center was approved by the Chicago Plan Commission.
In early August 2018, the Chicago Park District began cutting trees to relocate park facilities, with the most notable being the Jackson Park athletic field. On September 17, 2018, the Chicago Park District suspended its construction related to the Center following meetings with the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration. On September 18, 2018, it was announced that the Center will be owned by the city of Chicago once completed and that the Obama Foundation will not receive the tax-based operating or capital support, nor the perpetual leases which the 11 other museums in the city parks obtain.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel submitted two ordinances to the Chicago City Council on September 20: the first would grant the Obama Foundation a 99-year lease on the Jackson Park site for $10.00 with various restrictions on the Foundation's use, in return for the Foundation's financial responsibility for maintaining and operating the city-owned project; the second allows the city to plow under Cornell Drive from 59th Street to Hayes Drive in order to reconfigure this area as green space. The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) ordinance amends a 2015 agreement with the park district concerning the Obama Presidential Center. Under the new ordinance, the Presidential Center will comply with the Museum Act's free admission days requirements. Parking fees for the Center will also be regulated so they are consistent with the rates charged at the Museum of Science and Industry or in the North Garage adjacent to the Field Museum. The ordinance will also ensure that these parking fees may solely be used to finance the Center's operations, maintenance, management, and endowment funding. On October 31, 2018, the Chicago city council unanimously approved the new proposals for the Obama Presidential Center. Mayor Emanuel afterwards read a letter of thanks written by former President Obama.
On October 24, 2018, U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey held a status conference in the lawsuit filed by the group Protect Our Parks to prevent construction in Jackson Park. Blakey indicated that both sides want a quick resolution and the court will not delay the lawsuit. The city informed the court that they intend to seek a motion to dismiss after action by the City Council. Discovery continued during the next few months. On November 23, 2018, a motion was filed by the city of Chicago to dismiss the Protect Our Parks lawsuit. This request was denied on February 19, 2019 by Judge Blakey, allowing the lawsuit to proceed. On June 11, 2019, Judge Blakey ruled on the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and granted judgment in favor of the City and against Protect our Parks, dismissing the lawsuit to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
Some University of Chicago 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". A counter-letter in support of the Obama Center was signed by other faculty in response. The independent campus student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon wrote an editorial in support of the library that criticized the concerns raised by some faculty.
Construction and fundraising
Construction of the center was originally expected to begin in late 2018 and be completed in 2020 or 2021. 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. This review will likely determine the start date of construction if the plan is approved. Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects released the concept design for the Center in 2017. 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. In 2017, Obama reportedly was set to engage in a major fundraising effort for the Center. 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.
The Foundation's 2017 annual report, and its 2017 IRS filing, show that the Obama Foundation raised $232.6 million, on expenses of $23 million. The year after Obama left office was the first year the Foundation lifted a cap on donations. While it lists its donors on its website, it no longer specifically links donors to exact amounts. While the Chicago city government has not promised that the Foundation's endowment details will be disclosed publicly, its agreement with the Foundation requires that the Foundation may not proceed with construction of the Center until the building endowment is secured. On June 3, 2019, it was announced that a $5 million grant had been issued to the city of Chicago by the MacArthur Foundation for plans to build the new Chicago Public Library branch at the site of the proposed Obama Presidential Center. On February 3, 2021, former president Obama tweeted, “I’m proud to announce that the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) will officially break ground in 2021. Our hope is that the center will breathe new life into historic Jackson Park while delivering jobs, growth, and much more to the South Side. Let’s get to work.”
Obama presidential documents and artifacts
The papers and artifacts from the Obama administration are being stored and processed inside a facility in suburban Hoffman Estates, northwest of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The records are to be digitized and stored in existing NARA facilities. By law, they are not subject to any Freedom of Information Act requests until 2022.
- Presidential Records Act
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