Obama Foundation opens new Hyde Park headquarters

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Michael Strautmanis, Obama Foundation Vice President of Civic Engagement. March 18, 2016. Photo by Lynn Sweet.

Michael Strautmanis, the Obama Foundation vice president for civic engagement, said Friday it’s “important” to President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle that community voices be heard as plans for the Obama Center on the South Side are developed.

“It’s personal to them,” said Strautmanis, who has known and worked for the Obamas for two decades, including in the Obama White House. He spoke from the new foundation home at 5235 S. Harper Court, in a midrise building owned by the University of Chicago, where staffers were settling in on Friday.

The main wall decorations were maps showing the two potential sites for the Center: in Jackson Park or Washington Park, both nearby.

While the Obamas pick an architect from among seven finalists, Strautmanis is reaching out to the Chicago community as the foundation ponders the program and mission of the center.

“I am here to insure that we are working with the community throughout the entire process of building the Obama presidential center,” Strautmanis said.

Though the U. of C. led the drive to locate the Obama Center on the South Side, it is the foundation – not the school – that is putting together the plans for the building and the programs that will define the Center’s mission.

Towards that end, Strautmanis said he “sat down with the leadership” of the University of Illinois at Chicago — which also submitted a bid to locate the Obama museum and library on the city’s West Side.

“It is important to me to make sure that really all of the partners that we are going to need to be able to achieve the goals of creating a world class presidential center are involved, engaged and understand that this is about them,” Stautmanis said. He will also reach out to the City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago State University, another bidder.

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