Grant Park makeover coming
Even without Children’s Museum, northeast corner of park to be ripped up, redone in next five years
08/03/2011 10:00 PM
The Chicago Children’s Museum may not be coming to Grant Park any more, but the northeast corner of the park is still set to get a major makeover in the next five years.
The Children’s Museum appears to have been lured into staying at Navy Pier, ditching its plans to move into Grant Park after a contentious, years-long battle between neighbors, preservationists, aldermen and former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
However, that doesn’t mean the museum’s proposed site will stay untouched. Richard J. Daley Bicentennial Plaza, which sits in Grant Park between Randolph, Monroe, Columbus and Lake Shore Drive, still needs to be torn up so that the parking garage beneath it can be repaired.
Daley Bicentennial sits atop the East Monroe Street Parking Garage, one of the city-owned garages that was leased to Laz Parking and Morgan Stanley as part of the city’s parking meter privatization deal. As part of that agreement, the inside of the garage is being renovated by Laz right now.
But the garage’s roof is leaky and needs to be replaced, too. To do that, Daley Bicentennial Plaza has to be completely removed.
“It’s one of the larger green roofs in the world,” said Bob O’Neill, head of the Grant Park Conservancy. “And unfortunately to repair the garage, you have to remove the roof and the park on top of it.”
According to the Chicago Park District, the garage roof repair and the park’s redesign are set to happen within the next five years. There’s about $30 million from the parking privatization deal set aside for replacing the park, according to the park district.
Much of the early talk for redesigning the park centered around the Children’s Museum. In a 2009 interview with Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, the landscape architect who had been selected to reshape the park said his firm was working around the concept of the Children’s Museum.
“One element that we’re interested in is a children’s play area. We’re operating under the expectation that they [the museum] are going ahead,” landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh told Kamin.
With the museum no longer coming to that corner of Grant Park, though, plans are shifting. Van Valkenburgh’s firm declined to comment on the project to Chicago Journal. However, since a firm plan hadn’t yet been developed for the park, the departure doesn’t throw too big of a wrench into the process.
Park District Director of Planning Gia Biagi said plans for Daley Bicentennial Plaza’s revamp are still preliminary, but should be picking up soon.
“We’re in the middle of the design process,” Biagi said. “We did a number of community meetings and conversations. We hope to come back and discuss ideas with the community hopefully before the end of this year and early next year.”
One element in danger of being orphaned, though, is the plaza’s field house. Sitting on the north end of the plaza abutting Randolph, the field house has aged less gracefully than the park around it. It’s got a leaky roof that needs to be replaced, and it gets uncomfortably hot on some summer days.
“For a long time we’ve gotten complaints about the condition of the Daley Bicentennial field house,” O’Neill said. “It’s kind of a bunker. It’s really outlived its usefulness.”
The Children’s Museum was supposed to replace the field house, with the museum paying to build a new one elsewhere in the park. But with the museum’s departure, the field house’s fate is in question. The $30 million that’s budgeted to replace the rest of the park won’t cover the field house’s repair.
“We’d like to do some upgrades too if we can afford it, but the reality is that $30 million doesn’t go very far with a park that size,” Biagi said. “So we hope that we can find some partners to help renovate the field house.”
That might entail a public-private sponsorship deal like the park district has brokered in some parts of Millennium Park, dishing out naming rights in exchange for some cash to help build the site.
With a growing community in the area and shiny new Millennium Park right across Columbus, O’Neill said he hopes the field house gets the money for a revamp.
“There’s a burgeoning community just north of there,” O’Neill said. “There’s a lot of people who’ve just moved in around Grant Park, and it really should be a much nicer facility.”