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Obama Surprises Crowd at Presidential Center Meeting

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    Obama Surprises Crowd at Presidential Center Meeting

    Former President Barack Obama surprised the crowd at a public meeting in Chicago on Tuesday, after ad-libbing on stage for nearly an hour at the meeting that sought more input on the Obama Presidential Center planned for the city's South Side. Dick Johnson reports. (Published Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018)

    Former President Barack Obama surprised the crowd at a public meeting in Chicago on Tuesday, after ad-libbing on stage for nearly an hour at the meeting that sought more input on the Obama Presidential Center planned for the city's South Side.

    It was not publicly announced that Obama would be in attendance at the McCormick Place meeting, which started about 6 p.m. Obama pledged continuing transparency "'fairer than fair,' to quote Harold Washington," in regards to some debated issues on the center.

    "At some point our intention is to get moving on this thing," he told the crowd.

    Plans will go to the City Council in the spring. Pilot programming for young people will also begin around the same time, he said.

    The meeting included an overview of current plans for the center, followed by breakout meetings on topics including: buildings and landscape design, programming, economic impact, plans for a new track and turf field, as well as Chicago Department of Transportation proposals surrounding the Jackson Park center.

    Just hours before the meeting, the Chicago Park District announced that the Obama Foundation signed an agreement Tuesday to fund the new artificial turf field, replacing the Jackson Park Athletic Field.

    The Obama Foundation will donate up to $3.5 million to the Chicago Park District to cover the construction of the field, the park district said in a statement, adding that the park district will be responsible for design, construction, and maintenance. The project is expected to be completed by Fall 2018.

    Obama told Tuesday's crowd the center's message to young people is simple.

    "This is a sign I can change the world," he said. "This is more important than any legacy I could have."