"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.
The former first couple joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, once Obama's chief of staff, and community leaders for a community event, which included a casual roundtable discussion on the Obama Presidential Center. The center will be built in Chicago's Jackson Park, and Obama estimated that the center itself will create 200-300 jobs, adding that studies show it will ultimately generate "1,400-1,500 (jobs) in the construction phase and another 2,000 in the overall economic development of the area."
Obama showed off the conceptual designs for the center on Wednesday. The museum will be shaped like a lantern, and the center will serve as both a presidential library as well as the headquarters of the Obama Foundation.
"What we wanted was something that was alive and that was a hub for activity for the community and for the city and for the country," he said.
Aspects of the center's design will provide space to take advantage of Obama's famous friends, including "a studio where I can invite Spike Lee or Stephen Spielberg to come and do workshops on how to make films around the stories that young activists are working on," as well as "a music recording studio where I can invite Chance (the Rapper) or Bruce Springsteen, depending on your taste, to come here and talk about how you can record music that has social commentary and meaning."
That's not to say the museum won't also be a destination in its own right.
"Let's face it, y'all wanna see Michelle's dresses and some of the campaign posters and maybe there will be some artifacts from the White House and the presidency. Those are all interesting things to pull people in and give them a sense of what this has been all about," he said.
Obama also grew nostalgic talking about the South Side, saying: "The best things that have happened to me in my life happened in this community."
"The closest friends that I have made, the start of my life in public service, the values that I learned here in Chicago and we've now passed on to our children, I owe it all to this community. Although we had a formal bidding process to determine where the presidential library was going to be, the fact of the matter was, it had to be right here on the South Side of Chicago," he said.
Ahead of the event, Michelle Obama tweeted what some perceive as a subtle dig at the Trump administration.
"Excited by the potential of the Obama Pres. Center. Barack & I will continue to champion the issues close to our hearts, including girls ed," she wrote Wednesday morning.
A Trump administration memo obtained by CNN earlier this week
calls for the ending of "Let Girls Learn," one of her signature girls' education initiatives. Hours after CNN reported on the internal document advising administration employees
that the education initiative would not be maintained, the White House said the program had not changed.
The Obamas have maintained a relatively low profile since departing the White House. They are living nearby in Washington's Kalorama neighborhood as their younger daughter, Sasha, finishes high school.
Following a late January vacation to Palm Springs and then a trip to the Caribbean with billionaire businessman Richard Branson, they have been spotted occasionally around town, including one weekend visit to National Gallery of Art, where they received a round of applause. Michelle Obama has been seen at Soul Cycle classes and restaurants around town, and the former president has made multiple trips to New York City.
Last month, they vacationed in the South Pacific, where paparazzi snapped photos of the former president taking a photo of his wife. They were aboard a yacht during a getaway with friends Bruce Springsteen, Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks.
"Is this what's going on with social media that Oprah and I cannot go on a billionaire's boat to Tahiti with a former President of the United States and not keep it secret for God sakes?" Tom Hanks joked
in a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.