Obama flags off building of $700m presidential centre

The Obamas with Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot

The Obamas with Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot perform the groundbreaking for the presidential centre

Former U.S. President Barack Obama presided on Tuesday over a ceremonial groundbreaking at the future Obama Presidential Center in Chicago, saying he hopes the facility will be a hub of global civic activism.

Construction of the $700 million centre, blocks from the University of Chicago on the city’s South Side, began in August despite opposition from local activists. Donations to the Obama Foundation are paying for the project.

Due to be completed in 2025, it will house a museum of artifacts from Obama’s 2009-2017 presidency and be a public gathering space for cultural and educational events. The Democrat made history as the first Black U.S. president.

“We are about to break ground on the world’s premier institution for developing civic leaders across fields, across disciplines and, yes, across the political spectrum,” said Obama, 60, who once worked as a community organizer in Chicago.

After his remarks, Obama, his wife, former first lady Michelle Obama, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot dug into the construction site ground with shovels and gently tossed dirt.

Obama started his political life in Chicago.

The former first couple met there, their two daughters were born in the city and he taught law at the University of Chicago.

He also represented part of the city’s South Side in the Illinois state Senate before being elected to the U.S. Senate and then the White House.

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“Chicago is where everything most precious to me began,” he said.

“Chicago is where I found my purpose, and where I finally put my ideas about democracy and activism and social change to the test. Most important, it’s where I met a brilliant, beautiful daughter of the South Side named Michelle Robinson. We were married here, our daughters were born here, and we bought our first home here.

“Chicago is where almost everything that’s most precious to me began. It’s where I found a home.

“We will always be grateful for that, and the Obama Presidential Center is our way of repaying some of what this city has given us.

Environmental activists have opposed the project on the 19.3-acre (8-hectare) site, steps from Lake Michigan.

A group known as Protect Our Parks along with others sued in federal court in Chicago in April, claiming the centre’s construction violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

In August, the court denied an emergency motion to halt the project.

Another group, known as the Obama Community Benefits Agreement Coalition, also opposes the project, saying the site will displace neighborhood residents.

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