Obama Foundation submits plans for Obama Center to the city

Rendering of the updated site design plans for the Obama Center. The Obama Foundation submitted its plans for the Obama Center to the City of Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Photo courtesy of the Obama Foundation.

Staff Writer

The Obama Foundation has taken the next step in making the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park a reality, today, the foundation submitted its plans for the Obama Center to the City of Chicago.

The Planned Development and Lakefront Protection Ordinance applications were submitted to the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, Jan. 10. The city council will, in turn, submit the applications to the Chicago Plan Commission for review. The Plan Commission provides recommendations to the city council on development projects, plans and policies.

“Included in that will be the information that’s necessary to meet the requirements of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance,” said Michael Stratumanis, vice president of Civic Engagement for the Obama Foundation, during a phone interview ahead of the foundation’s announcement on Wednesday.

The proposed site location for the OPC is near 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue, which is right on the cusp of the entrance to Midway Plaisance Park at 59th Street, according to design plans released last May.

A view of the Obama Center from the South West, showing how the Museum Building, Forum Building, and Library Building will surround a public plaza. The Obama Foundation submitted its plans for the Obama Center to the City of Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Concept model of the Obama Center courtesy of the Obama Foundation.

The Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection ordinance requires a review and public hearings on projects within the proximity of the city’s Lake Michigan shoreline, which is coordinated by the Chicago Plan Commission. The Obama Center falls within the scope of the law because of the area in which it will be constructed.

Before meeting with the Chicago Plan Commission this spring, foundation officials said that they would hold public meetings in the coming weeks to discuss changes to design for the Obama Center and on its applications.

To the relief of some residents and park advocates, the foundation appeared to slow the process down on its plans to present to the Chicago Plan Commission before the close of 2017.

Now, just two weeks into the New Year, the foundation is ready to start the next phase for the Obama Center “We have a sense of urgency…even though we talked about looking to submit this by the end of the year, we weren’t ready. There were still some design decisions that needed to be made [parking was one of those decisions]. We’re at the stage now where we are ready to move forward,” Strautmanis said.

The Obama Presidential Center concept model, as seen from above and the North West.  Depicted here is the Museum, Library, and Forum buildings. According to the Obama Foundation the Museum Building “is meant to represent hope, ascension and what ordinary people have the power to do together. It is designed to be a new landmark for the South Side and an important civic place for the City of Chicago.” The Obama Foundation submitted its plans for the Obama Center to the City of Chicago on Wednesday, Jan. 10. Concept model for the Obama Center courtesy of the Obama Foundation.

The sense of urgency, Strautmanis added does not just come from the foundation it also comes from the community “we know people want to get this project moving.”

All the while, a formal federal environmental review process is just beginning to take shape.

Projects in the pipeline in Jackson Park such as the Obama Center, accompanying roadway changes, and related South Lakefront Framework Plan updates call for a federal level environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

One aspect of the National Environmental Policy Act process includes a review of historic resources under “Section 106” of the National Historic Preservation Act.

The section 106 review process requires government agencies and other stakeholders to take a closer look at the impact of proposed plans on historic sites, buildings, and other cultural resources while also taking into account the cultural landscape features, architectural and ecological resources.

The first in a series of section 106 meetings was held last month at the South Side YMCA.

“The review processes inform each other and give the opportunity for robust public participation,” Strautmanis said.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation are facilitating the Section 106 review in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration. The city has asked consulting parties as well as the public to comment on the process by identifying areas of potential effects.

Some in the community want to know what the outcome will be if it there are too many “adverse effects” for the placement of Obama Center in Jackson Park. ‘Will the foundation move on and select another site,’ is a question that has been posed by some residents.

Strautmanis said the President and Mrs. Obama considered other sites before they chose Jackson Park. “We’re very confident that this is the best site for the Obama Presidential Center and we’ve heard overwhelmingly positive impact about that,” Strautmanis said. “Of course this [section] 106 process is necessary for us to get the approval to move forward. Whatever comes out of it we will be sure to work with the city. We’re going to see how it unfolds.”

“We consider this project a giving process because we’re trying to improve wherever the building is built,” said Dina Griffin, president of Interactive Design Architects. “We feel that the best benefit and the best improvement will happen at that location.”

Initial site design plans for the Obama Center were released in May since then little tweaks have been made, according to Griffin, who is one of the members of the design team for the Obama Center that includes Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Michael Van Valkenburgh.

Screenshot from “Obama Presidential Center: Where We are Now” a video from the Obama Foundation. Former U.S. President Barack Obama and Mrs. Michelle Obama examine a model of the Obama Center while Tod Williams, a lead architect for the project looks on. Courtesy of the Obama Foundation.

The Obama Center campus includes a museum, a library building, an athletic center plaza and a forum. The museum will be tallest of the buildings and is planned to be 235-feet-high. It will have eight floors about half of the building will be occupied by the Obama Center’s museum.

The biggest of the changes in design for the Obama Center occurred just this week. The foundation cut its plans to have an above ground-parking garage on the Midway.

Instead, the parking garage will be located underground in Jackson Park. In updated site design plans released on Wednesday, the parking garage is situated under the southern portion of the campus between the Library Building and proposed Athletic Center.

The entry and exit from the garage will be on the east side of Stony Island Avenue aligned with 61st Street.

Other changes to the design plan include: refinement to the museum building, retaining the Women’s Garden, removing the pedestrian bridge to Wooded Island and Lagoon, and spread out play areas across the site.

“The museum tower itself we’ve made some minor changes to the shape of the building, Griffin said. “We have also reconsidered the flow of the building,” Griffin added that the foundation is hopeful for a partnership with Chicago Public Library. A CPL branch would be housed where the archives will be stored.

Groundbreaking for the Obama Center is expected to begin in late 2018. The Obama Center will open its doors in 2021.