Obama Presidential Center is Causing Home Prices to Rise Nearby, Activists Say

During a celebratory groundbreaking on Tuesday, Barack and Michelle Obama dug shovels into the ground of what will become the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, the Associated Press reported.

Construction along Lake Michigan officially began last month, despite project delays due to lawsuits and federal reviews of the land.

Obama choose South Side lakefront Jackson Park as the site for the library. The development went under a four-year review process because Jackson Park is on National Register of Historic Places.

Social activists fear that as the area becomes attractive, Black residents will be displaced. The fears by neighborhood activists brought on a years-long battle. The Chicago City Council has since approved neighborhood protections, including affordable housing.

On Tuesday, other neighborhood activists said that they were already seeing rising housing prices and would keep pushing for more protections in surrounding areas.

Environmental activists also objected to the library's location and the loss of trees in the space. During the groundbreaking, a plane pulled an aerial banner reading, "STOP CUTTING DOWN TREES. MOVE OPC."

Obama, who did not take questions during Tuesday's event, said the center is one way of giving back and said he hoped it would bring an economic boost to the area and inspire a future generation of leaders. He also said the center will benefit the surrounding area with new jobs and new trees planted.

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

Obamas break ground on legacy project
Barack and Michelle dig their shovels into their legacy project, the Obama Presidential Center, on Tuesday on the South Side of Chicago. Construction began last month despite facing setbacks due to lawsuits, land reviews and activist concerns. Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

"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 presidential center will sit on 19 acres (7.7 hectares) of the 540-acre (291-hectare) of Jackson Park, named for the nation's seventh president, Andrew Jackson.

It will be unique among presidential libraries. Obama's presidential papers will be available in digital form. The sprawling campus will include a museum, public library branch, athletic center, test kitchen and children's play area.

The initial cost was projected at $500 million, but documents released by the Obama Foundation last month showed it is now roughly $830 million. Funds are being raised through private donations.

Organizers estimate about 750,000 visitors will come to the center each year.

Obama chose Chicago over several cities, including Honolulu, where he was born and spent his early years.

It's a part of Chicago that has special significance for the Obamas. The center is near the University of Chicago, where Obama taught law and where the Obamas got married and raised their two daughters. Michelle Obama also grew up on the South Side.

"This city, this neighborhood, courses through my veins and defines me at my very core," Michelle Obama 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."