There is a bit of a backstory to the decision by the Obama Foundation to pay for the Obama Presidential Center garage, to be built on land owned by the city across from the Stony Island Avenue side of the complex.
The foundation announced on Aug. 23 it will foot the bill for a garage on a patch of the Midway Plaisance bounded by 60th, 59th, Stony Island and the Metra tracks only after the city rebuffed an approach from the foundation to bankroll the garage, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.
A one point, the foundation broached with the city the possibility that the parking garage for the Obama Center be a city-owned public garage, or a privately owned and operated garage on the land the city owned. A deal with a private entity still would have involved the city.
There were no private takers biting — since there are no retail or residential or institutional developments currently around the future site of the Obama Center to drive traffic into a 400 to 450 car garage.
Now that may change as the years go by. If the center is indeed an economic engine, then the bleak cityscape around 60th and Stony Island may indeed turn into a lively retail and residential neighborhood or entertainment strip. But that will take awhile.
The Obama Foundation got the message from the city: If you want a garage, you pay for it — especially since the city is stretching to handle tens of millions of dollars of other infrastructure, streets and public transit improvements.
I am not suggesting there was any contention or animosity. There was just a mutual agreement, I am told, that the foundation asked — and after the city said no, it has other Obama Center priorities — the foundation moved on.
The decision had to be made now about the garage since it takes time and money to design the garage. And the foundation had to lock down details because it needs to appear before the Chicago Plan Commission, I am told, by the end of the year, in order for groundbreaking to take place sometime next fall, with construction taking between 32 and 36 months.
MORE OBAMA CENTER DETAILS EMERGING
More specific details are emerging for the first time about the Obama Center, included in a bid document or companies bidding to become construction manager for the complex.
• The construction cost of the Obama Center complex is estimated between $300 million and $350 million, according to the bid document.
Last May, I reported that tucked into an economic impact report was the sum of $675 million dollars, taking in spending for start-up construction, programming, staff and other operating expenses from 2015 to 2021.
• The total area of the Obama Center is in the range of 200,000 to 225,000 square feet.
• That takes in space for not only the museum and library — presidential and possibly public, which raises the question of who will pay for a Chicago Public Library branch at the Obama Center — multipurpose classroom and meeting space, offices, restaurants, bookstore, outdoor activity and garden space and, as revealed when former President Barack Obama showed off a model of the center last May, audio and video production studios.