After 5 years, Obamas break ground on Presidential Center

CHICAGO (AP) — After five years of legal battles, gentrification concerns and a federal review, Barack and Michelle Obama dug shovels into the ground Tuesday during a celebratory groundbreaking on their legacy project in a lakefront Chicago park.

Construction on the Obama Presidential Center along Lake Michigan, near the Obama family home and where the former president started his political career on Chicago's South Side, officially began last month.

Standing near an excavator and other heavy equipment, Obama described how the city's South Side shaped him, first as a community organizer, then as a husband, father and elected official. He said the center was one way of giving back and he hoped it would bring an economic boost to the area and inspire a future generation of leaders.

“We want this center to be more than a static museum or a source of archival research. It won’t just be a collection of campaign memorabilia or Michelle's ballgowns, although I know everybody will come see those,” he joked. “It won’t just be an exercise in nostalgia or looking backwards. We want to look forward.”

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and several city aldermen were among the few people allowed at the event, which was streamed online to limit crowds amid the COVID-19 pandemic.