He acknowledged tensions surrounding the campus’ impact on its South Side neighborhood as residents worry the gleaming new complex will displace lower-income residents.
Obama toured the site while he was in Chicago this week for the Obama Foundation’s Democracy Forum, a symposium that will take on artificial intelligence and political discourse this year.
The former president also plans to headline an alumni party on Friday evening with more than 2,500 members of his administration and political teams to mark the 15th anniversary of his historic 2008 election.
The celebration will include remarks by Michelle Obama, Jen Psaki and Kal Penn in addition to a performance by Jon Batiste and a live taping of Crooked Media’s Pod Save America with the former president.
While touring the Obama Center site, Roark Frankel, director of planning and construction for the Obama center, directed Strautmanis and POLITICO up three flights of metal stairs where the Eleanor Roosevelt Fruit and Vegetable Garden will be built, overlooking a picturesque lagoon to the east and Lake Michigan beyond.
“Just amazing,” said Strautmanis, a former Obama White House aide who hadn’t seen the view before. He said his mission is for the center to fit the Obamas’ brand.
“The Obamas are special,” he said. “They’re important. They’re iconic. But at the end of the day, they’re two people who decided that they want to participate in creating civic change, and anybody can do that.”