Obama, Michelle to unveil Obama Center details in Chicago

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama kiss as they prepare to greet President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania to the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2017. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON – Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle return to where they celebrated their marriage – the South Shore Cultural Center – on Wednesday to provide an update on their Obama Center, show a model and get “input” from a handpicked audience.

The Sun-Times has learned there are some very general plans for the center – a library, museum, event space and offices, and a conceptual model that has been shown to Obama Foundation insiders – that the former first couple will make public Wednesday.

However, a design by the husband and wife architectural team of Billie Tsien and Tod Williams cannot be finalized until the Obamas firm up what kinds of programs they want – the design will follow the functions. Groundbreaking is expected sometime next year.

While Obama was in Chicago last week for his first public post-presidential event – and was in his adopted hometown in February to meet with his Obama Foundation – Mrs. Obama is making her first public appearance in Chicago since leaving the White House Jan. 20.

The Obama Foundation is billing this as a “community event,” though it is not open to general public – tickets are by “invitation only,” the foundation said in a notice about the Wednesday morning event.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first White House chief of staff, and “community leaders” will be among those attending.

Obama “will host a roundtable discussion to update the community on the progress of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and hear directly from members of the community on their ideas for the Center,” the foundation said.

“More than a building or a museum, the Obama Presidential Center will be a working center for civic engagement and a place to inspire people and communities to create change,” the foundation said.

The Sun-Times earlier reported Obama on Wednesday evening will address the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, where he will reflect on his two terms and his Obama Presidential Center.

According to an invitation obtained by the Sun-Times, Obama plans to “share his thoughts and vision for the Obama Presidential Center as well as some reflections on his administration.”

The dinner will take place at The Chicago Club, 81 E. Van Buren. Obama’s speech and was not publicly announced by either the Obama Foundation or his post-presidential office. Obama has come under some criticism for taking a $400,000 speaking engagement later this year. An Obama source told the Sun-Times Obama is not charging for his appearance before the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.

In this case, it’s the other way around – Obama will be delivering a speech to potential mega-donors to his foundation.

The board of Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago is made up of Chicago’s wealthy civic elite, people the Obamas are cultivating to become multi-million contributors for the Obama Center.

Obama will need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to build and endow his center.

The president of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club is Kelly Welsh, who was a top deputy to Obama’s former Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker, the billionaire business executive and philanthropist who will likely emerge at some point as a major Obama Foundation supporter.

Welsh’s wife is Ellen Alberding, the president of the Joyce Foundation, which had pledged $1 million over three years to the Obama Foundation, with the first payment delivered in 2014.

The foundation is headquartered in Chicago and has a growing operation in Washington, in the same building housing Obama’s government-paid post presidential office.

Some community groups in Chicago are demanding the foundation negotiate a “community benefits” agreement to guarantee that local neighborhoods benefit from the Obama Center.

The foundation, led by Obama pal Marty Nesbitt – who at one time was in business with Pritzker – has argued that locating the Obama Center in Jackson Park will kickstart ailing South Side neighborhoods – in itself a significant “community benefit.”

The Obamas celebrated their Oct. 3, 1992, marriage at the South Shore Cultural Center; Emanuel and wife Amy Rule also held their wedding reception in the center on the Lake Michigan shore.

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