Obama makes in-person pitch for presidential center

The Obama Foundation held its final public meeting Tuesday in a bid to win support for a planned Barack Obama presidential library on the South Side of Chicago.

Those who attended heard from a high-profile supporter of the project: the former president himself, who made a surprise appearance.

Obama tried to allay fears that the project could disrupt the neighborhood by attracting other development and forcing out longtime residents.

"We have such a long way to go before you will start seeing the prospect of gentrification,” Obama told the gathering, according to the Chicago Tribune. “(My daughter) Malia's kids might have to worry about that. Right now, we've got to worry about broken curbs and trash and boarded-up buildings. That's what we really need to work on.”

Obama said the presidential center will create jobs and attract businesses to the area. But many local residents have been skeptical, fearing the plan could increase neighborhood housing costs and take away some already-scarce recreational space.

The foundation made a gesture to appeal to those concerns, announcing Tuesday that it would donate more than $3.5 million to install an artificial turf athletic field in Jackson Park, where the presidential center will be located.

The foundation is expected to raise about $675 million for the project, which will include a presidential library, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. But the figure does not include about $175 million in surrounding infrastructure improvements, for which city officials expect taxpayers to pick up the tab.

The Obama Foundation previously said the center is estimated to support nearly 5,000 new jobs during construction and 2,500 permanent jobs once it opens. It also claims that in its first 10 years, the center is expected to have a total economic impact of $3.1 billion.

Tuesday's public meeting was the last before the proposal goes to the Chicago Plan Commission for a vote.

Crews are expected to break ground later this year and open doors in 2021.

Fox News’ Adam Shaw and the Associated Press contributed to this story.