Barack and Michelle Obama on Wednesday offered the first look at the design of the planned Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park — a campus of three buildings highlighted by an eye-catching museum, whose height and splaying walls would make a bold architectural statement.

Calling it a "transformational project for this community," the former president said he and Michelle Obama envisioned a vibrant setting that would be akin to Millennium Park — a destination for those drawn to the presidential center and the park itself. But to achieve this, the plans call for closing Cornell Drive, a major access route used by thousands of commuters a day.

"It's not just a building. It's not just a park. Hopefully it's a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side," he told an audience of about 300 political and community leaders at the South Shore Cultural Center. It will also become, the Obama Foundation said, the first completely digital presidential library, with no paper records stored on site.

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The design for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park was unveiled May 3, 2017.
The design for the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park was unveiled May 3, 2017.

The three buildings could encompass 200,000 to 225,000 square feet, the foundation said. That would be roughly the same size, or slightly larger, than the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

The Chicago center will be built in the northwest corner of historic Jackson Park, on a sliver of land just south of the Museum of Science and Industry. It will require moving an athletic field and running track to the south along Stony Island Avenue.

An architectural model on display at the South Shore Cultural Center showed a possible location for the Obama center's parking. It could be placed beneath a mound to the west of Stony Island Avenue and to the east of commuter railroad tracks.

The site is the eastern terminus of the Midway Plaisance that connects Jackson and Washington parks.

Wednesday's announcement signals a new phase in the daunting task of raising the money to pay for the ambitious project and the foundation has been hiring staff in anticipation of that.

A spokeswoman for the Obama Foundation said afterward that it was too early to specify the building's cost. But the George W. Bush library and endowment, by comparison, broke records at more than $500 million, and federal endowment requirements have increased since then.

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