The plans for Obama’s Presidential Center in Chicago are getting so extravagant, the proposed structures now include a basketball court, a yoga room and even a test kitchen.
The facility will also include “a children’s play garden, sledding hill, green spaces for picnics and outdoor gatherings … and even a recording studio,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
In February 2017, the architects even said they may need as much as $1.5 billion to pay for the project, which includes a library and a museum. That’s three times the amount of money raised for George W. Bush’s presidential center in Dallas.
Obama’s team is apparently aiming to create an activity-center vibe at the center where visitors will be able to play basketball, join yoga classes and even enter a test kitchen where they will be taught “about the full production cycle of nutritious food,” courtesy of Michelle Obama’s healthy-eating campaign.
Unlike other presidential libraries, there’s one thing the Obamas didn’t want the presidential center to include: hard copies of Obama’s letters, manuscripts or other documents.
According to the plans, the center will feature only a digital archive of Obama’s records.
“This is going to be completely different,” Foundation CEO David Simas said in October 2017. “What the president and first lady said … is they simply did not want a museum that served as a mausoleum, as a way to look back.”
James “Skip” Rutherford, dean of the William J. Clinton School of Public Service, said he doesn’t believe inclusion of the hard-copy documents is all that important.
“I don’t think it will have a major impact in terms of the success or popularity of the center,” Rutherford told the Chicago Tribune. “The presence of paper records is less important now. Go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the treasure is in the documents. But now, the treasure is in the electronic records.”
The presidential center is scheduled for completion in 2021.
Chicago Tribune columnist Ron Grossman blasted the “test kitchen” idea, saying it doesn’t belong in the presidential center.
“Mr. President, I’ve got to tell you: The renderings for your museum are ‘little plans,’ more likely to congeal than stir blood,” Grossman wrote.
He continued: “What brought me up short was a space in the adjoining Forum building labeled ‘test kitchen.’ Presumably that reflects Michelle Obama’s war on junk food. The museum’s champions similarly suggest it could host yoga classes. President Obama, is that how you want to be remembered? As the healthy-eating and meditation-advocating president?
“That’s not how I want the story to come down to my grandchildren’s children.”
Rather, Grossman suggested, Obama’s architects and planners should instead focus on the “revolution” in America that upended decades of racism and exclusion for black Americans.
The former president has said the center will be “more like a campus” and will be used as a “premier institution for training young people in leadership.”