Obamas break ground on presidential library following years of delays


Well, that took long enough.

Former President Barack Obama broke ground on his now $830 million Presidential Center in Chicago, after five years of legal battles, a federal review and community concerns.

Barack and Michelle Obama dug shovels into the ground along Lake Michigan in the city’s South Side, where the Democrat began his political career, Tuesday afternoon.

The former president discussed how the area shaped him as a community organizer, husband, father and politician.

“We want this center to be more than a static museum or a source of archival research. It won’t just be a collection of campaign memorabilia or Michelle’s ballgowns, although I know everybody will come see those,” he joked. “It won’t just be an exercise in nostalgia or looking backwards. We want to look forward.”

The former first lady grew up in the neighborhood and spoke about how it shaped her.

“This city, this neighborhood courses through my veins and defines me at my very core,” Michelle said at the event. “This substantial investment in the South Side will help make the neighborhood where we call home a destination for the entire world.”

The Obamas were joined at the ceremony by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
The Obamas were joined at the ceremony by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Just a handful of Illinois dignitaries were on hand for the celebration, which was closed to the public and streamed online over COVID-19 concerns.

The presidential library will take up 19 acres of the 540-acre Jackson Park and will feature a museum, public library branch, athletic center and children’s play area. It’s expected to attract 750,000 visitors a year when it opens in 2026.

The center is funded by private donations. Documents recently released by the Obama Foundation show the cost has ballooned from $500 million to $830 million.

Obama said that he wants the center to be "more than a static museum or a source of archival research."
Obama said that he wants the center to be “more than a static museum or a source of archival research.”
Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images

The development of the site has been stunted by delays and lawsuits. Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and fears the library would accelerate gentrification in the neighborhood spurred city-approved local affordable housing protections. Environmental advocates have protested the loss of green space.

Obama has said most of the neighborhood is on board with the project, which he said will create new jobs.

The 60-year-old did not take questions at the event, but his remarks on immigration during an interview with ABC reverberated in the White House Tuesday.

Obama called the Del Rio, Texas border crisis “heartbreaking” and said the immigration system was “dysfunctional,” in the clip, which aired on “Good Morning America” Tuesday.

The Presidential Center groundbreaking comes after years of delays.
The Presidential Center groundbreaking comes after years of delays.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

“Immigration is tough. It always has been because, on the one hand, I think we are naturally a people that wants to help others. And we see tragedy and hardship and families that are desperately trying to get here so that their kids are safe, and they’re in some cases fleeing violence or catastrophe,” Obama said during the interview.

“At the same time, we’re a nation state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that … as a practical matter, is unsustainable.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the border was not “open” when asked about Obama’s comments Tuesday.

With AP wires

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