The Obama Foundation has formally broken ground on the new Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park. Located between S Stony Island Avenue and S Cornell Drive, from E 59th Street to E 62nd Street, the center will bring a variety of community engaging programs to the South Side upon its 2025 opening. The monumental day was filled with celebration featuring Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Governor JB Pritzker, as well as the namesake Michelle and Barack Obama, bringing the end to a multi-year legal battle between the organization and local residents who have fought to preserve the park’s current design.
Although the history of the center on its current Jackson Park site dates back a few years, the history of the land it sits on begins over a century ago. Originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who is known for also designing Central Park, Jackson Park was meant to be a natural oasis in an ever growing city with a flourishing South Side. Only a few years later Chicago was selected to host the 1893 World’s Fair and plans for the park quickly changed with the likes of Daniel Burnham to accommodate what would become known as the White City. After the historical fair, the grounds burnt down with the exception of the Palace of Fine Arts and since then the park has been home to a variety of uses including a launch site for Nike missiles, with the center’s site most recently being a football field which has since been relocated.
Fast forward to modern day and Jackson Park was chosen to be home to the latest presidential library, a tradition dating back to 1939 that continues to this day. This will be the second presidential library in the state of Illinois joining the Lincoln Library in Springfield. However the Obama Center will be the first to operate with a different model from its predecessors, unlike past libraries which hold their archives on site, the Obama Center will be completely digital. The full collection will be available online with pieces being lent to the physical building for use and display allowing the facilities to engage the local community more than those of the past.
The sprawling complex is being designed by multiple groups including Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects leading the building architecture and Michael van Valkenburgh Associates leading the project’s landscape design. Visitors and users will be drawn to the 235-foot-tall main tower, whose four sides are meant to represent four hands coming together in ascension, but will have access to a large variety of cultural facilities. These include numerous collaborative and creative spaces, a restaurant, various plazas and open spaces, a museum, a Chicago Public Library location, rooftop gardens, an athletics and recreation facility and more.
The center will also contribute a great number of outdoor spaces to the park with a large outdoor playground and a wetland environment for stormwater treatment offering nature walks. New plantings and a restoration of the women’s garden at the base of the midway Plaisance will round off the site with a few other features such as a great lawn. A more in-depth look at all the center’s offerings can be found here.
President Obama spoke at the event of the of the $830 million project stating that, “We want the Obama Presidential Center to change Chicago for the better. This center will support thousands of jobs during and after construction, many of them right here on the South Side.” The center is expected to bring over 750,000 visitors to the area every year which will benefit what is sometimes called museum campus south. The promise of increased traffic sparking an overall larger economic growth in collaboration with the nearby University of Chicago is one of the main goals, new hotels and campus facilities have been popping up all around the area in the past few years and show no signs of stopping. The center will be a Chicago landmark and surely to be talked about for many years to come.