CHICAGO (CBS) – Former President Obama and his wife Michelle returned Wednesday to Chicago to unveil plans for the new Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park dedicated to the 44th President.
The Obama Presidential Center will not open for four years, but the former President told a packed audience at the South Shore Cultural Center some of its programs will start this summer. He and former First Lady Michele Obama are donating $2-million to summer job programs, for example.
As for the Center, Mr. Obama made it clear he wanted his presidential center to be different from that of his predecessors. He said it must be a living institution, not a monument and should it help young people become the leaders of tomorrow.
“It’s not just a single building, but it’s more like a campus,” said Mr. Obama. “Because what we want this to be is the world’s premier institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world. That is our goal.”
The Center’s design attempts to integrate with Jackson Park, not overwhelm it, while using benefits from an estimated 700,000 annual visitors to uplift the area. The museum is a tower, the most prominent building. There is also a library and a forum for activities. A playground and other leisurely activities are planned.
“It’s not just a building, it’s not just a park, but hopefully this ends up being a hub that all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side,” Mr. Obama said.
But, the campus would also cut off Cornell Drive, a main thoroughfare for the South Side. The former President said that might make commutes a bit loner, but will unify the project, like downtown’s museum campus.
“It transformed downtown Chicago and the same thing can happen here but we have to be bold in how we visualize the project,” he said.
But, the former President also noted there is much to talk about.
“Right now, what many of you saw as you came in, you saw the models, you saw the pictures – that’s our basic conception,” Mr. Obama said. “But it’s not fixed yet. We want to continue to have input to make sure we get this just right, because ultimately this is your center, not just mine.”
The former President acknowledged there are challenges with the design – traffic, parking, crowd control – minority contracting, for example, but he promised the Obama Foundation will work through all of them with the surrounding communities.
Mr. Obama said he wants the Center to be a living institution dedicated to inspiring and training young people to be the leaders of tomorrow.