Hundreds of people attended the invite-only event at the South Shore Cultural Center, where newly released renderings were on display for viewing. This will be the first time the couple shares a preview of the Obama Presidential Center.
Shortly before 1 p.m., Barack Obama took the stage and reflected on his South Side roots, noting his wedding was at the South Shore Cultural Center, his first Chicago apartment was in Hyde Park, his children being born at the University of Chicago Hospital and his wife growing up nearby.
PHOTOS: RENDERINGS OF THE OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL CENTER
He also announced that his family would donate $2 million for youth summer jobs in Chicago.
"Michelle and I will personally donate $2 million to our summer jobs programs here in the community so that right away people can get to work and we can start providing opportunity for them," Obama said, noting that the center itself will not open for four more years.
"We can't afford to wait four years to start working together, and so what Michelle and I want to do is start now," Obama said, citing the issue of violence in Chicago.
Obama said the presidential center will be, in part, a leadership training center.
"What we want this to be is the world's premiere institution for training young people and leadership to make a different in their communities, in their countries and the world. That's our goal," Obama told the crowd.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's former chief of staff, attended the event and spoke during introductions, as did Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward).
Three buildings are included in the presidential center concept, including the Museum, Forum, and Library - forming a campus surrounding a public plaza. The campus will be open to the public and the center will include indoor and outdoor spaces.
The museum, the tallest of the three buildings, will hold exhibition space, public spaces, offices, and education and meeting rooms. The forum and library buildings will be community resources for study and foundation programming. The foundation is currently exploring the possibility of locating a Chicago Public Library branch on the site.
The forum will contain foundation offices, an auditorium, restaurant, and public garden. The forum and library will be single story structures with planted roof terraces.
The buildings will be connected below grade and will be certified at a minimum LEED v4 Platinum. The total size of the center will range between 200-225,000 gross square feet, but the concept site plan imagines a re-shaping of the park that will result in a total net increase in green space for Jackson Park, according to the Obama Foundation.
"The Obamas want to create a safe, warm, inviting place that brings people in, teaches them something new, and inspires them to create change in their own communities. The center will be a place for doing, not just looking or listening, "said Marty Nesbitt, chairman of the Obama Foundation.
Architects Billie Tsien, Tod Williams and Chicago's Dina Griffin were also in attendance.
Construction is estimated to be at least $500 million. The former president will fundraise to cover that cost. If all goes according to plan, the center would open in 2021.
One possible source of controversy for the plan would be the closing of Cornell Drive, which cuts through Jackson Park. However, Obama said that the traffic issue can be resolved and that the bigger plan would transform the South Side neighborhood.
Wednesday's event was not Barack Obama's first public appearance since leaving the White House. He returned to Chicago in February for several events and was back again in April to speak at the University of Chicago. But it was Michelle Obama's first public appearance
The couple attended a dinner Wednesday night where they addressed the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.
Before the South Shore event, she sent out a tweet:
Excited by the potential of the Obama Pres. Center. Barack & I will continue to champion the issues close to our hearts, including girls ed. pic.twitter.com/3VVtNyKHLK— Michelle Obama (@MichelleObama) May 3, 2017
CNN Wire contributed to this report.