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Chico: I’ll keep children’s museum out of Grant Park

Navy Pier | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Navy Pier | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 14, 2010 2:32AM

Mayoral challenger Gery Chico vowed Monday to bury one of Mayor Daley’s most controversial projects: the proposed Children’s Museum in Grant Park.

If he is elected mayor, Chico said his preference would be to negotiate a new long-term lease at Navy Pier to lock in an anchor tenant that has drawn families and school field trips from across the city.

But if a deal cannot be worked out that gives the children’s museum the space and rent relief it needs to expand and thrive at Navy Pier, Chico said he would work with the City Council to find an alternative site away from Grant Park. He refused to identify possible locations.

“Some of the backlash that was involved with the location in Grant Park may have chilled fund-raising. The economy is a factor as well. That affords us the chance to take a fresh look at this,” Chico said.

“The neighbors aren’t happy with it. There are a lot of things bad about the history of this project. We should not be having a big fight over this. This is a wonderful project. This is a new kind of leadership that would have us working collaboratively to locate a world-class institution that serves children and involves no controversy. We don’t need controversy.”

In June 2008, the City Council voted 33 to 16 to approve Daley’s controversial plan to build a $100 million children’s museum in Grant Park over the strenuous objections of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

At the time, Daley argued that museum officials had “answered all the objections of the community” by redesigning the project five times to drive it farther and farther underground.

“Any lower they get, they’ll be in the sub-, sub-basement,” the mayor said then.

It was the first time in four years that the City Council had violated aldermanic prerogative, the tradition of deferring to the wishes of the local alderman on zoning and development issues.

The vote set the stage for a marathon court fight over 172 years of legal protections — affirmed by four Illinois Supreme Court rulings — that have kept Grant Park “forever open, clear and free,” as civic leader Montgomery Ward sought.

Last year, a Circuit Court judge sided with the children’s museum in a lawsuit filed on procedural issues. But opponents are waiting until ground is broken in Grant Park before filing a lawsuit based on the Montgomery Ward decisions.

Earlier this year, the museum negotiated a lease extension to remain at Navy Pier until at least November 2013 — and possibly as long as 2025.

The museum has repeatedly insisted that it intends to remain at Navy Pier for “four or five years” before moving to Daley Bicentennial Plaza.

A spokesperson for Carol Moseley Braun said she, too, “is against taking up park land” for the Children’s Museum. “There are plenty of other places to put it,” said Braun’s spokesperson, Renee Ferguson. “Right now, Navy Pier needs it to stay there.”

Mayoral challengers Danny Davis, Miguel del Valle and James Meeks said Monday they have not yet taken a position on the children’s museum project. The views of Rahm Emanuel were not known.

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