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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Obama Presidential Center Construction Officially Begins In Jackson Park

After years of delays, the Obama Foundation and the city have finally started to build the presidential center in Jackson Park and overhaul the area's road layout.

Construction crews work on 60th Street near the Midway Plaisance and south Stony Island Avenue, adjacent to the planned site for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on June 29, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — Construction in and around Barack Obama’s future presidential center has begun as the former president’s foundation and the city bring the long-delayed project to fruition.

Road work near the Obama Presidential Center site began Friday, the same day the Obama Foundation officially took over 19.3 acres of Jackson Park.

Construction on the center launched Monday and is set to be finished in 2025, nine years after the foundation announced its intention to build in Jackson Park. The project is estimated to cost $700 million — $200 million more than prior estimates — according to acting foundation President Valerie Jarrett. An official groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for the fall.

Credit: The Obama Foundation
A north-facing view of the Obama Presidential Center plaza and museum building, as viewed from the roof of the Chicago Public Library building.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Fencing and a construction truck along Cornell Drive in Jackson Park Aug. 16.

After years of planning and vocal support for the Obama Foundation’s plans, the Jackson Park Advisory Council’s next phase “is obviously to educate the community about all the amazing things that the Obama Center is going to bring” to the park, president Louise McCurry said.

The group led community members on a walking tour around the site Monday and intends to hold one every month, McCurry said. The tours will be similar to the council’s docent program for the Japanese Garden on Wooded Island.

“If you educate people and they know how important something is, they’ll take better care of it and they’ll come together,” McCurry said.

Antonio Davis, a resident of Parkway Gardens in Woodlawn and founder of the Paving the Way Project in Washington Park, joined the council and a couple of dozen others for the tour.

He’s been tracking the center’s planned arrival in his neighborhood and said he is happy to see work begin, he said.

“There’s something of everything that’s coming to the center,” Davis said. “I’m very glad that I’m seeing the bulldozers and everything doing the work.”

Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Crews remove Jackson Park’s old track and turf field near 61st Street Aug. 16, which has been replaced with a new track and field near 63rd Street.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
Jackson Park’s new track and field near 63rd Street, which is expected to open this fall. The $3.5 million field was paid for by the Obama Foundation, according to the Hyde Park Herald.

In addition to the site work, temporary traffic changes started Friday as the city redesigns roads in and out of Jackson Park for the Obama Center.

Crews narrowed Cornell Drive from six lanes to four from 59th to 63rd streets in order to limit construction trucks on Stony Island Avenue. They’ve also closed the block of South Midway Plaisance in the park, and will convert North Midway Plaisance to two-way traffic by Sept. 2.

Planned permanent road changes include:

  • Closing the following roads and converting them to park land:
    • Cornell Drive between Midway Plaisance and Hayes Drive.
    • The northbound section of Cornell Drive between 65th and 68th streets.
    • Marquette Drive between Stony Island Avenue and Richards Drive.
    • The eastbound portion of Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive.
  • Adding a third southbound lane on Lake Shore Drive from 57th Street to Hayes Drive, and a travel lane in each direction on Stony Island Avenue from 59th Street to 65th Street.
  • Making changes to other roadways, bike paths and walkways in and around Jackson Park.

The Chicago Department of Transportation created a website to track traffic changes and provide information on the city’s infrastructure projects near the Obama Center site. CDOT is set to spend $174 million in state funds on the projects.

The city and foundation’s plans for the Obama Center have sparked complex debates about displacement, land use, historical preservation, race and more among residents of the neighborhoods near Jackson Park.

Nonprofit Protect Our Parks, which sued the city, the Obama Foundation and federal officials in April, unsuccessfully sought to halt the Obama Center’s construction. The group has appealed the decision.

A U.S. Court of Appeals panel on Friday also denied the nonprofit’s request to stop construction until judges rule on that appeal, paving the way for construction to begin Monday.

Construction cones are visible down Cornell Drive at 63rd Street Aug. 16. Cornell will be shuttered through the park as part of the Obama Center plans, adding parkland while modifying the park’s historic design.
Credit: Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
A security truck pulls into Jackson Park off Stony Island Avenue, near Hyde Park High School.

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