The Obama Foundation plans to break ground this year on the anticipated Obama Presidential Center (OPC) in Jackson Park, which is expected to bring an estimated 5,000 jobs and 700,000 annual visitors to the area.

Once completed, the 19.3-acre OPC campus will be a hub for the Obama Foundation’s work, including a presidential museum, a Chicago Public Library branch, a children’s play area with an extensive playground, an open green space for community and social gatherings and more.

After a four-year federal review process for the OPC, the city plans to begin pre-construction work — such as relocating utility lines — in April. In the second half of the year, as early as August, physical construction will start. According to a press release, the OPC will generate $3.1 billion in economic impact for Cook County.

Today, former President Barack Obama shared a video message to mark the conclusion of the federal review process.

“Getting to this point wouldn’t have been possible without the folks in the community who have been a part of this process along the way,” Obama said. “Michelle and I want to thank you for making this project even better — a space for the community, built in partnership with the community. We know that by working together, we can unlock the South Side’s fullest potential — and help set up our city, our country and our world for even better years still to come.”

The OPC construction project is scheduled to take four years to complete, and is estimated to cost nearly $500 million. According to the press release, the Obama Foundation will take on 100% of the construction and maintenance costs within the site, and ownership of the site will belong to the city upon completion. The foundation will privately finance any ongoing needs for the site.

To help with leveraging investment in the South Side neighborhood, the city will invest in infrastructure improvement projects. 

“Upon completion, the Obama Presidential Center will serve as an economic and cultural nucleus for our city’s historic South Side,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in the press release. “The OPC’s impact will stretch beyond the borders of its campus and, in conjunction with other nearby capital improvements, it will ensure the long-term, economic prosperity of our South Side communities.”

Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th Ward) is excited about the OPC coming to the Jackson Park community. Before her election to City Council in 2019, she worked as an organizer with the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, a leading member of the Obama CBA Coalition, a group that fought for a community benefits agreement.

In September 2020, after a five-year effort to prevent displacement, the organizers won a major victory when City Council passed the Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance. 

“This was never about us not getting the OPC. It’s saying that we don’t want to be kicked out because we’re getting it,” Taylor told The TRiiBE today. “I’m definitely excited. You’re talking about the first Black president of the United States. We’re talking about a community that’s overlooked. Now’s the time to say, if you want to come in our community, you need to respect the people who are here and we need to be able to create jobs for the people who currently live here and [provide] opportunity for our young people.”

The Woodlawn Housing Preservation Ordinance includes a number of protections for neighborhood residents who fear being kicked out of the area due to rising cost-of-living prices when the OPC opens. One such protection is a provision to allow renters a “right of first refusal” if their landlord decides to sell the building.

“It gives the opportunity for people to be able to buy their buildings,” Taylor said. For example, if people in a three-flat are paying $1,500 a month for rent, if the landlord decides to sell the building, those residents could put their money together and get first pick at buying the building.

“Those are some of the things that I’m excited about. I want them to put more money into programs. I want us to have a trust so that it protects homeowners who currently live here,” Taylor said. “I appreciate the city listening to the community and moving in the right direction.”

is the editor-in-chief of The TRiiBE and a 2023-2024 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow.