Grant Park contract going out

Brooklyn firm expected to score high-profile work

11/18/2009 10:00 PM


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A rendering of the Chicago Children's Museum facility in Grant Park.
Chicago Children's Museum

A Brooklyn-based landscape architecture firm has been recommended to lead the revamp of the northern end of Grant Park, one of the most prominent — and, in recent times, most contentious — public spaces in Chicago.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. will plan an area that includes the Grant Park site of the Chicago Children’s Museum, according to a letter park district staff posted on the agency’s Web site on Tuesday.

The park district board was expected to approve the $4.2-million contract with Valkenburgh Inc. at their meeting yesterday afternoon.

The 25-acre swath stretches from Daley Bicentennial Plaza on the west to Peanut Park, a grassy area adjacent to Lake Shore Drive, south of Randolph, on the east. Cancer Survivor’s Garden falls between those two bookends.

The contract, according to the park district letter, calls on the firm to create a conceptual plan for the area informed by public meetings and comments left on a Web site created about the effort.

Later phases of the contract require the firm to manage permitting and construction at the site.

The East Monroe Parking Garage, a structure that lies beneath Daley Bi, will undergo renovation next year. The grass that covers the garage will be stripped off to repair a membrane that prevents water leakage.

The contract requires Valkenburgh to work with the vendor repairing the garage and with the Chicago Children’s Museum, which plans to move to the area where Daley Bi is now.

“All phases of work include extensive coordination with the garage renovation project, the Chicago Children’s Museum project and coordination with other city departments and agencies as required,” the board letter notes.

“Coordination means they are building a children’s museum, and we’re building a park next to it,” said Gia Biagi, the park district’s director of planning.

The Chicago Children’s Museum received approval last year from the plan commission and city council to move to northern Grant Park over objections of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), the vehement opposition of many neighbors and a wide-range of civic organizations.

Critics called the move a land grab, pointing to Grant Park’s dedication as a “public ground” that was “forever to remain vacant of buildings,” and four Illinois Supreme Court decisions Montgomery Ward filed more than a century ago that ratified those rules.

Museum supporters said the museum would be built underground, replacing the Monroe parking garage, an existing building, thus rendering the park’s dedication restrictions and Ward suits inapplicable to their project.

The city council’s 33-16 vote backing the museum was a rare dismissal of the council’s tradition of “aldermanic prerogative.” The heated debate about the move saw Reilly, a freshman alderman, cross swords with Mayor Richard M. Daley, who offered his full-throated support to the museum.

As part of the move, the museum promised to replace Daley Bi with a new park district facility for the area’s growing residential population.

No specific mention is made in the park district’s letter of litigation sparked by the museum’s relocation.

Biagi said she couldn’t comment on legal matters.

Last spring, two lawsuits against the move were dismissed in Cook County Circuit Cook.

Save Grant Park, an organization founded to fight the museum’s move, called both of those suits “pre-game” maneuvers designed to cost the museum resources, in a May 27 e-mail.

“We are ready to go with the REAL lawsuit that is based on the four IL Supreme Court decisions that have clearly stated it [is] illegal to construct private, above ground structures in Grant Park,” the e-mail read.

Richard Ward, president of the New Eastside Association of Residents, a group that opposed the museum’s move, said residents were waiting for “shovels in the ground” to file a suit based on the Ward court rulings.

A representative from Save Grant Park could not be reached.

This summer, Crain’s reported the children’s museum was struggling to raise funds for their move. Museum officials released a statement saying they were moving forward.

The park district’s letter commends the team recommended for the work, saying the firm understands the issues this part of Grant Park faces.

“Michael Van Valkenburgh not only understands the complicated stakeholder and jurisdictional challenges involved with North Grant Park, but also has successfully negotiated similar terrain in examples of his previous work,” the letter reads.

Biagi said the park district wants to create a “local space and a space that is compelling to visitors.”

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By Student of History from New Eastside
Posted: 11/19/2009 9:33 AM

The park district must be reminded that the Children's Museum is proposing a building that is 14 times the volume of the legal existing fieldhouse. In the entire 172-year history of Chicago, no challenged building has survived the Illinois Supreme Court. Neither the Art Institute building nor the Pritzker/Harris building were challenged, and therefore are not court-approved "exceptions" to the 1836 and 1839 dedication restrictions: