Construction for Barack Obama’s presidential library is finally set to begin this year, but there is still controversy as residents worry about displacement and the estimated $174 million price tag for taxpayers.

Former President Obama picked a site on the shores of Lake Michigan near the South Side area where he started his political career, taught constitutional law and lived with his family.

The Obama Foundation said plans for construction followed a “robust four-year long federal review process.” Preliminary work involves relocating some utility lines by April, with construction set to begin in the second half of the year.

The foundation estimates development will generate some $3.1 billion for Cook County, serve as a revitalization for the historic Jackson Park and bring an estimated 700,000 people a year to the South Side.

“Upon completion, the Obama Presidential Center will serve as an economic and cultural nucleus for our city’s historic South Side,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. “In addition to attracting visitors from all over our city and around the world, the OPC will also bring in new businesses and create new jobs – providing residents in the surrounding communities with the resources they need to lead happy, fulfilled and stable lives.”

The South Side has been rocked by frequent violence, notably last year when tight social restrictions were in place to control the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Area residents have expressed concern the project would displace some homes in the community, Fox News reported, and a May 2018 lawsuit was filed against construction plans in Jackson Park.

Herb Caplan, the president of the Protect Our Parks coalition, complained the federal review process for the presidential center was “specious” and pledged a new round of legal action, Fox added.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times notes that construction could snarl traffic on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive because plans call for an extra lane to handle the expected surge in traffic.

Adding to the controversy would be the estimated $174 million in taxpayer dollars to support some of that road construction, the Chicago newspaper reported.

The Obama Foundation, however, estimates the new center could create as many as 5,000 jobs, both during and after construction. The foundation would also donate as much as $3.5 million to build an area track and field facility, The Associated Press reported.

The center will take up about 20 acres of the 540-acre Jackson Park, with most of that set aside as greenspace. Planners add they would draw on a diverse set of vendors “because we believe the team building the Center should look like and benefit our community.”

Barack and Michelle Obama
Former U.S. President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama arrive at President Joe Biden's inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021. Rob Carr/Getty Images