With former President Barack Obama's library, Chicago's South Side plans big

"It's really a transformative development for the city of Chicago."

April 21, 2021, 3:24 PM

Plans for former President Barack Obama's presidential library are underway in his hometown of Chicago's South Side.

A rendering shows a north-facing view of the Obama Presidential Center campus in Jackson Park, Chicago.
The Obama Foundation

"We hope it will help lift up the South Side and breathe new life into Jackson Park and the surrounding communities," former President Obama said in a tweet.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced $500 million plans to create the Obama Presidential Center in the historic South Side Jackson Park.

A partial view of the Chicago Skyline, Dec. 29, 2019.
Raymond Boyd/Getty Images, FILE

"It's really a transformative development for the city of Chicago," Deputy Mayor of Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar told ABC News.

The Chicago's South Side is home to a diverse urban community made up of many minorities and is not the typical location for a presidential library or presidential center, but Mayekar said that is the point.

"One of the things we've really been focused on under Mayor Lori Lightfoot's leadership is really thinking about all of the communities that surround the Obama Presidential Center ... it will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into a community in a way that will generate more jobs more opportunity and more hope for the residents of the South Side," Mayekar said.

An aerial view shows the proposed site for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago's Jackson Park, May 13, 2020.
Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The project follows a four-year federal review, lawsuits, and concerns by activists of possible gentrification.

The library and center is expected to become a major tourist attraction and moneymaker for the city, which could potentially make the area unaffordable for some of its current residents.

In efforts to curb potential gentrification, Illinois passed a housing preservation ordinance that provides $10 million in financing to help preserve affordability in the communities around the Obama Presidential Community Center.

Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago, stands in her office during a public open house at City Hall in Chicago, May 20, 2019.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"It was really important to make sure we're making substantial investments in affordable housing because as you can imagine any time you have a tremendous catalytic development, there's always displacement concerns," Mayekar said.

Plans for the Center

Plans for the center include play areas, a four-building campus, underground parking, open space for walking and bike paths.

Former President Barack Obama speaks during a drive-in rally while campaigning for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Oct. 21, 2020, in Philadelphia.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The center is set to be built around the site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition which was once a site for the World Fair, and "put Chicago on the road map," according to Mayekar.

"It's only fitting that the next, tremendous milestone that happens on the South Side of this magnitude, happens in historic Jackson Park with the Obama Center," Mayekar said.

Work for the library officially begins in mid-September 2021.

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