Obama defends $500M ‘Presidential Center’ in Chicago amid local blowback

Former President Barack Obama has defended the location of his $500 million Presidential Center in Chicago, saying he’s “absolutely confident” it will benefit the community – amid complaints from locals that it will destroy a historic park and lead to gentrification.

Following five years of legal battles, a federal review and gentrification concerns, Barack and Michelle Obama are expected to attend a celebratory groundbreaking Tuesday at the construction site of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side.

In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America on the eve of the groundbreaking, Obama dismissed the criticism of his legacy project, including multiple legal attempts to block construction.

“The overwhelming majority of the community has been not just okay with it, but are hugely enthusiastic about it,” Obama said.

“The truth is, any time you do a big project, unless you’re in the middle of a field somewhere, you know, and it’s on private property, there’s always going to be some people who say, ‘Well, but we don’t want change. We’re worried about it. We don’t know how it’s going to turn out,'” Obama said.

Construction crews tear up the turf field and track in Jackson Park.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

The Obamas both grew up on Chicago’s South Side and the former president decided back in 2016 that he wanted his presidential library to be located there.  

“The young person who’s growing up across the street or down the block or a few miles away, now suddenly have a place where concerts and speeches and debates and forums are taking place that they can access,” Obama told the outlet.

Former President Barack Obama.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“If they want to bring about change in their neighborhoods, they’ve got resources and people who can teach them how to do that effectively. And they’re going to be able to see themselves as part of that change in a way that, so often, they don’t feel right now.”

Construction on the legacy project began last month and is expected to take five years.

On the same day that construction started, the Supreme Court blocked an 11th hour plea from Chicago park advocacy group, Protect Our Parks, to halt the project.

The Obama Presidential Center model.
Courtesy of the Obama Foundation

The group has argued it will destroy significant parts of historic Jackson Park. The presidential center will sit on 19 acres of the 540-acre park.

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