Obama oversees groundbreaking for his presidential library in Chicago

Barack Michelle Obama
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama toss shovels of dirt during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago on September 28, 2021. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
  • The Obamas on Tuesday oversaw the groundbreaking of the former president’s presidential library in Chicago.
  • The library will be built in Chicago’s Jackson Park, located on the city’s South Side.
  • After a series of construction delays, the library site will soon be buzzing with activity.
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Former President Barack Obama on Tuesday kicked off the groundbreaking of his presidential library in Chicago, returning to the city that launched his stratospheric rise from the Illinois legislature to the White House.

While standing in the city’s historic Jackson Park, the location of the Obama Presidential Center, the former president and former First Lady Michelle Obama exalted in the momentous occasion, alongside a small number of guests that included Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The Obamas remarked on the significance of the library being built in Chicago.

The former president emphasized how he received his first taste of public service in the city in the 1980s, pushing to enact change by “knocking on doors and organizing in church basements,” while also reminiscing that it was the place where he started a family.

“It was in neighborhoods not far from here that I began working with church groups in the shadow of closed steel mills,” he said.

The former president then said that while the library will explore his years in the White House, the focus will be on fostering ideas and training future leaders across all disciplines.

“We want this center to be more than a static museum or a source of archival research,” he said. “It won’t just be an exercise in nostalgia … we want this to be a living, thriving home.”

The former first lady, a native of the South Side of Chicago, leaned into her deep roots in the surrounding area.

“No matter what I’ve accomplished or who I’ve met or where I’ve gone, one of my greatest honors is being a proud Chicagoan and a daughter of the South Side,” she said at the ceremony. “I wear it boldly and proudly like a crown. This city, this neighborhood, it courses through my veins. It makes me who I am.”

In 2016, the former president selected Jackson Park as the site of his presidential library, a development that has energized the South Side with a hope for increased economic opportunities.

The former first couple envision that the complex, which is expected to cost roughly $US830 ($AU1,139) million and take about five years to build, will be a dynamic cultural center, with event spaces, recording studios, play spaces, and a Chicago Public Library branch, among other amenities planned for the site.

Construction on the library commenced in August after a series of delays.

A nonprofit organization called Protect Our Parks, which opposed the library being built in the park and wanted it constructed on a nearby site to the west, in August filed an emergency motion asking that the Supreme Court temporarily bar construction.

The applicants argued that the groundbreaking should have been halted because the trees in Jackson Park, designed in 1871 by the famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, are important for migratory birds, in addition to raising concerns about noise and air pollution.

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is assigned to handle cases for much of the Midwest, denied the motion, allowing for construction to proceed.

Obama, who served in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2005, was elected to the US Senate in 2004 before launching a nascent presidential bid in 2007.

In 2008, he became the first Black American elected to the presidency in US history, and was reelected in 2012.

After leaving the White House, the Obamas have devoted their time to a range of causes, including their work with the Obama Foundation, as well as launching a production company, Higher Ground Productions, which has created content for Netflix.