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Obama Presidential Center construction brings opportunity to Latino businesses

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Obama Presidential Center

The Obama Foundation has begun the long-awaited construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park with a promise to contract with minority-owned businesses for the nearly $500 million project.

In a written statement to Negocios Now, an Obama Foundation spokeswoman said 50 percent of the subcontracting packages will go to diverse vendors, “fulfilling the belief that the team building the Center should look like the community it calls home.”

Obama chose the 19-acre site along Lake Michigan five years ago but delays have stemmed from lawsuits, a federal review required to locate the center on a historic site, and negotiations over affordable housing and other protections for the surrounding black community.

The foundation has already contracted with two Hispanic Woman-Owned Businesses to support the nascent project, Oui Oui Porta Potties and City Lights. It expects to contract many more, in part because it has broken up the bidding contracts into more than 160 bid packages, according to a spokeswoman, who said this is double the number one might normally see on a project of this size.

“It’s our hope that this will maximize participation of diverse businesses in the community,” she said.

The Obama Presidential Center will be a complex, including the museum, a new branch of the Chicago Public Library, an athletic and activity center, a playground,
redesigned park and garden areas, a Great Lawn and an area called The Forum, which will have collaborative and creative spaces, including an auditorium, a broadcast and recording studio, learning and meeting spaces, and a restaurant. The location, on the South Side, is not far from where the Obamas lived in Chicago.

Over the last five years, the Obama Foundation has faced pressure from the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) to include businesses owned by Latinos in the sprawling project. Once it had selected the center’s location, the foundation hired a group of five construction companies to manage the building
process, but none of them were owned by Latinos.

In 2018, the foundation promised HACIA executives it would work with member companies on upcoming projects. And the foundation has since committed to supporting diverse suppliers in the bidding process to help expand representation from their communities.

Now, as construction gets underway, Oui Oui Porta Potties and City Lights should be just the first of many Latino-owned businesses to have a hand in the project.

“We look forward to continuing to engage Latinx suppliers as the Center comes to life in the months and years ahead,” the foundation spokeswoman told Negocios Now.

Tara Garci?a Mathewson/Negocios Now

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