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Obama Presidential Center costs detailed as groundbreaking takes place at Jackson Park

An athletic field on the Obama Center Jackson Park site was torn up Monday, while motorists near the park were warned to expect traffic delays due to construction.

Construction crews tear up the turf field and track in Jackson Park starting construction on the Barack Obama Presidential Center, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Construction crews tear up the turf field and track in Jackson Park starting construction on the Barack Obama Presidential Center, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

With a low-key groundbreaking in historic Jackson Park Monday, more details emerged on the costs of the Obama Presidential Center.

As workers used equipment to tear up an athletic field located on the 19.3 acres the Obama Center will occupy, motorists going in and near Jackson Park were warned by Chicago police to “expect traffic delays and rerouting due to construction near and around” the park.

Here are the updates:

Cost breakdown: The foundation estimated as of June, the total costs will be $700 million, of which $500 million is slated for what the foundation calls “hard” construction costs.

City Hall approved a deal Friday turning over the 19.3 acres of public park land to the foundation, which put up $1 million for an endowment and $485 million in cash and pledges for construction of the complex of four buildings and a garage.

In July 2016, former President Barack Obama selected Jackson Park for his center, the site of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux originally designed Jackson Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

According to a construction budget, the Obama Presidential Foundation submitted to City Hall and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, the price had been pegged at $482 million.

• $145.2 million is for the 235-foot museum tower, a chunky structure designed to be the iconic symbol of the project intended to tell the story — including the post presidential chapters — of the nation’s first Black president, who launched his political career on the South Side.

• $117.5 million for two buildings, a Chicago Public Library branch and a forum with a restaurant, auditorium, recording studios and other space. The Obama Center will not house Obama’s official presidential library, which is in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates.

• $58.7 million for landscaping and “site improvements.”

• $47 million for unspecified general “requirements” and “conditions.”

• $31.4 million for a garage.

• $21.3 million for future price escalation.

• $20.2 million for a combo athletic center/event space.

• $15.2 million for insurance.

• $10.5 million for contractor’s construction contingency.

• $10.1 million for contractor’s fee/profit.

• $4.2 million for site security.

All the buildings are connected and will be built at the same time, an Obama Foundation spokesperson said. The museum tower will take the longest to complete.

Road rerouting: On Monday, the city said, “South Midway Plaisance between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive, which runs eastbound, will be permanently closed and included in the footprint of the OPC.”

The Obama Library in Hoffman Estates: Obama’s official presidential library is run by the National Archives and Records Administration. It is not open to the public. A NARA spokesman told the Sun-Times Monday there is no timetable yet on closing the Hoffman Estates facility and artifacts from Obama’s two terms are still there. Obama’s museum will be able to borrow artifacts from the library for exhibits.

Low key: As I write this, not even a tweet about the start of construction came from Obama, former First Lady Michelle, Obama Foundation President Valerie Jarrett or the foundation. A ceremonial groundbreaking is expected in the fall.

For traffic updates: