By Brennan Sullivan
Shortly after leaving office last year, President Obama and his family left the political echo chamber of Washington, D.C. for the warm weather in Palm Springs. But it didn’t take them long to return to their lives of activism and civic involvement. The Obama Foundation, founded in 2014 before his presidency ended, has been making headlines since it released its plans for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) which will be constructed in in Chicago’s Jackson Park.
Instead of the traditional presidential library, President and First Lady Obama are creating a sort of campus in Chicago’s South Side, aimed at fostering leadership and “active citizenship,” according to the foundation’s website.
Jackson Park will be gaining a museum, a two-story public forum space, library, athletic center and plaza. The plaza will be suitable for a range of events such as planned gatherings, festivals and fairs and can be used for sledding in the winter. The Chicago Tribune estimates this 19.3 acre renovation to the historic 543 acre Chicago park will cost about $350 million dollars.
However, the foundation hopes that the center will increase economic growth and investment to an area of Chicago that has been historically disenfranchised. In a statement released on their website, the Obama foundation estimated there will be “an economic impact of $3.1 billion during the construction period and first ten years of operations,” benefitting not only the South Side neighborhoods, but the entire city of Chicago.
The statement said that the OPC will create a predicted 4,945 jobs, both directly and indirectly, during its construction phase. As for the actual year-round operation of the center, there will be another 2,536 open positions for local residents and members of underrepresented communities to fill – two groups the organization pledged to hire.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly supported the OPC and said, “We know from experience that public and institutional investments attract private capital to neighborhoods, and this report highlights the Obama Presidential Center’s significant projected economic impact that will complement and accelerate the investments we’re making on the South Side.”
University of Chicago economics major Brady Sarkon, said the center will affect the Jackson and Hyde Park neighborhoods in a positive way. Its construction, he says, will create many jobs within the community and once completed, new visitors will “provide a boost to the local economy.”
“The Obama’s commitment to the South side is great, and I hope that the center brings with it the investment and economic growth that they have envisioned,” said Sarkon.
With an expected arrival date of 2021, the Obama Presidential Center seems to be catching the eye of more and more hopeful Chicagoans every day.