Former US President Barack Obama stands next to a map that shows the design of the Obama Presidential Center as Architect Dina Griffin (L) speaks about the progress of the center during a community event at the South Shore Cultural Center on May 3, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Obama Presidential Center will be constructed in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side Woodlawn neighborhood. / AFP PHOTO / Joshua LOTT
Barack Obama on Wednesday unveiled the vision for his presidential library in Chicago, a modern, $500 million project he hopes will be a training ground for future leaders housed in the city that launched his career.
Speaking on the city’s south side near the center’s future site, the former President Obama revealed drawings and a 3-D rendering of a three-structure complex with a public plaza and surrounding park land near the shores of Lake Michigan.
The site is slated to be upwards of 225,000 square feet in size and house a library, museum and forum — as well as classrooms, meeting spaces, a community garden and a recreational area.
The goal was to “create an institution that will train the next generation of leadership,” Obama told a packed audience.
“So that they can take up the torch and lead the process of change in the future.”
Private donations will fund the institution and construction could take four years, though Obama said programming could begin as soon as this year.
To jumpstart that effort the former president announced he and his wife had donated $2 million to a Chicago summer jobs program with the aim of revitalizing communities that will neighbor his center’s campus.
He noted the midwestern city’s reputation for violence — particularly in the downtrodden neighborhoods surrounding the library’s site — saying he hoped the future institution could provide a revitalizing space for locals.
Obama, formerly a community organizer in Chicago, said the center could also help redevelop struggling neighborhoods by encouraging new business and tourism.
The complex will be the latest addition to a national network of presidential libraries — but one the first African American president hopes will be less of a monument than a forward-looking, living institution.
“We don’t want to see some big building that’s dead,” Obama said.
“What we wanted was something that was alive, and that was a hub for activity for the community, for the city, and for the country,” he said.
He highlighted plans for barbecue grills, a spot for winter sledding and a lookout point featuring sweeping views of the lake and skyline.
He also playfully emphasized the importance of an area for basketball, a sport for which his love is well-known.