A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center. (Courtesy of Obama Foundation)

Two weeks after President and Mrs. Obama appeared at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center on Chicago’s South Side, representatives from the Obama Foundation spoke at the 2021 ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago about the project’s aspirations for creating a world-class museum and public gathering place that will inspire and connect a new generation of leaders while revitalizing the park and benefiting the local economy.

Slated to open in Jackson Park in 2025, the Obama Presidential Center will incorporate a museum, a forum building with collaborative and creative spaces, a large plaza, a new branch of the Chicago Public Library topped by a fruit and vegetable garden, a great lawn, a children’s play area, an athletic center, and winding landscaped paths.

“Most presidential centers are parked on a university campus or surrounded by concrete,” said Lori Healey, senior vice president and operation and implementation lead for the Obama Presidential Center. “Much of this one has been designed with the community in mind as much as the visitor. Investing in an anchor for the community is how neighborhoods transform themselves.”

From left to right: Lori Healey, senior vice president and operation and implementation lead for the Obama Presidential Center; Michael Strautmanis, executive vice president of civic engagement, Obama Foundation; and Louise Bernard, senior vice president and director of the museum, speaking at the 2021 ULI Fall Meeting in Chicago.

“One of the immediate opportunities in front of us is workforce development,” said Michael Strautmanis, executive vice president of civic engagement for the Obama Foundation. “We’ve set some important, lofty, transparent—but we think achievable—goals so that we can be held accountable.”

These include goals that 50 percent of the on-site construction work hours will be performed by city residents and 35 percent of those work hours will be performed by residents of the South and West Sides. The Obama Foundation’s workforce development program is also providing apprenticeship training programs for residents of the South and West Sides to help diversify the construction workforce.

New York City–based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects | Partners lead the design for the complex. “We think about the museum tower as being a lamp or a beacon on the landscape and a symbol of hope,” said Louise Bernard, senior vice president and director of the museum.

Words from a portion of President Obama’s speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery will wrap part of the tower’s exterior. Inside, exhibits will cover the history of American democracy, the story of Obama’s presidency, and the ongoing work of the Obama Foundation and the Obamas themselves.

“We want everyday visitors to the museum to see themselves reflected back in this programming and see the ways that we can all collectively make change, however large or however small,” Bernard said.