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Obama Presidential Center opening pushed from late 2025 to 2026

Barack Obama’s namesake presidential center — which was slated to open in late 2025 in Jackson Park — will see its debut pushed to at least the following spring, Obama Foundation officials said this week.

“We want to make sure it looks spectacular. Everyone knows spring is better than late fall in Chicago,” Obama Foundation CEO Valerie Jarrett told the Tribune Friday.

Asked whether the center will open closer to March or June of 2026, Jarrett said, “Certainly it is our intention to wait until all of the landscaping is finished and in full bloom and we can showcase the center in its full glory.”

After the Tribune spoke with Jarrett, a spokeswoman for the foundation said, “The opening of the presidential museum will be in 2026 but we won’t have more specific timing to share until we get a little closer.”

Construction of the buildings will still be complete before the end of 2025, Jarrett said, but the foundation wants to take time on the museum’s interior, which will have 30 exhibits and about 50 interactive media components.

Museum Director Louise Bernard has been working with the former president and historians on the center’s narrative. Exhibits will include artifacts and documents lent by the National Archives and Records Administration as well as from volunteers, friends, and staffers of the campaign and administration.

Obama paid a visit to McCormick Place Thursday to view a two-story prototype digital display that will stretch through multiple floors of the museum. He also met with leaders from the African American design firm Moody Nolan — who designed the campus’ athletic center — and Elevate Design Builders.

Beset by legal challenges in its early years, the Obama Presidential Center had already set a modern record for the longest time between the end of a president’s term in office and completion of their museum (former President Donald Trump has not announced any plans for his), according to The Wall Street Journal.

Of the museum’s displays, Jarrett said, “We want to get them right. (President Obama) is very involved in the story we’re telling, since it’s his story and Mrs. Obama’s story and those upon whose shoulders we stand. We want to make sure we give it time and attention.”

The brief delay of the grand opening, first reported by the Sun-Times, means more than a decade will have passed between the president choosing Chicago as home to his museum and the opening of the presidential center. Jarrett said construction costs — roughly $800 million — remain the same, thanks to a fixed price contract inked before inflation took off.

The 19-acre campus will be home to the towering museum showcasing the president’s legacy; a forum building for community events; a small Chicago Public Library branch; an athletic center that breaks ground Monday; as well as outdoor play areas, walking trails, a garden and a sledding hill integrated into the surrounding park.

That athletic center and the park space are still expected to open in late 2025. “We thought it was really important to open first our contribution to the community,” Jarrett said.

The museum building itself is 75% complete and interior work will have to wait until the dust settles — literally — to protect artifacts, Jarrett said. The “library and forum are coming along” as well.

This story was updated to reflect subsequent comments from a spokeswoman from the Obama Foundation.

aquig@chicagotribune.com