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Obama Presidential Center costs to increase to $700M

The Obama Presidential Center, already estimated to be the most expensive presidential library in U.S. history, will now cost nearly $700 million to build in Jackson Park, Obama Foundation President Valerie Jarrett said at a recent virtual event.

The 19.3-acre OPC, which is scheduled to break ground in the fall, was originally estimated to cost $500 million, but Jarrett said the price tag will increase by $200 million.

Last week, former President Barack Obama and Jarrett spoke at separate virtual events hosted by the Economic Club of Chicago. In April, the Obama Foundation kicked off a campaign fundraising drive to raise $400 million from Chicago companies and foundations for construction and endowment costs.

Jarrett, who is on the board of the Economic Club, a group of elite corporate and philanthropic executives, said overall the Obama Foundation has raised $900 million so far, including $266 million from Chicago donors.

Obama said the OPC will serve as a South Side anchor that will help Chicago’s image.

“I think that so often, the image of Chicago is being dictated by some of the bad news, rather than all that greatness,” Obama said.

The OPC will not house the archives of a traditional presidential library, but the facility will chronicle the Obamas’ roots in Chicago. Designed by architects Todd Williams and Billie Tsien, the OPC will have a Chicago Public Library branch and a museum that will include an auditorium, a broadcast and recording studio, a sky room, and a restaurant. The facility will also include a women’s garden and wetland walk.

The OPC took a big step forward in February when the facility passed a federal review of its plans to build the facility in historic Jackson Park. The plans include closing Cornell and Marquette Drive as part of an effort to restore Jackson Park to its original design. To address traffic concerns, the city pledged to widen several roads, including Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. This spring, the Obama Foundation began pre-construction work on Stony Island Avenue near Hyde Park Academy High School that will sit directly across from the OPC.

Last year, residents and activists scored a victory when the Chicago City Council passed a Community Benefits Ordinance that aims to address concerns that the OPC will spark gentrification and displace poor residents in South Shore and Woodlawn. The ordinance commits millions to redeveloping vacant buildings and lots, funding home improvements and refinancing for homeowners, and assisting low- and middle-income renters in home ownership. Under this agreement, renters also get the right of first refusal if their landlord sells the building.

Before the ordinance’s passage, the Obama Foundation released a plan that will require 50 percent of subcontracted vendors to be “diverse” and will fund $850,000 in workplace development training for 400 apprentices from the South and West sides. The OPC is expected to generate thousands of jobs.

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