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Children’s Museum to stay at Navy Pier but mum on lease terms

Updated: October 30, 2012 8:19PM

The Children’s Museum has agreed to stay at Navy Pier for the next 90 years — and expand its anchor tenant footprint by nearly 50 percent under a deal that includes a $10 million “tenant improvement allowance.”

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s ill-fated plan to build a new Children’s Museum in Grant Park is officially dead but there’s cost.

Throughout the marathon negotiations, there was talk of a subsidy to make it more attractive for the Children’s Museum to stay at Navy Pier — either in the form of direct help, a rent break or a parking discount for museum patrons now forced to pay through the nose.

On Tuesday, the Children’s Museum remained tight-lipped about the terms. But other sources said the lease includes a $10 million “tenant improvement allowance” to help finance the expansion from 57,000 to nearly 84,000 square feet. The museum would continue to pay $1 a year rent and common area maintenance fees based on square footage. The museum also would continue to get a parking rebate for everyone of its patrons. Since the 1990s, the museum has passed along the parking discount only to its members. It has used the rest of the parking rebate to defray operating costs.

Under repeated questioning at an unrelated news conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel refused to say whether he made it worth the Children’s Museum’s while to stay put.

“When I ran for office, I told you we were gonna find common ground and resolve the issue of this conflict about where the Children’s Museum should go,” the mayor said.

“As a father — my wife would refer to as a Saturday father sometimes — I have a place to take [my] children. There is nothing like the Children’s Museum. I’m glad they’ve decided to anchor themselves with Navy Pier. One of the plans we have to go forward is a whole revitalized Navy Pier with a revitalized Children’s Museum, so parents like myself can continue to enjoy a great cultural institution and educational entity.”

Reminded that he had not answered the question about a financial subsidy, Emanuel said, “We’ll let all of those details out [later]. The good news is this big, major conflict for the city is behind us. We’re going forward. The Children’s Museum, Navy Pier and the city’s interests are now all aligned looking forward in a unified fashion. That’s what’s more important than anything.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), who fought Daley’s Grant Park plan tooth-and-nail, said he’s all for financial incentives if that’s what it takes to keep the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier — and out of Grant Park.

“The museum is literally the front door to Navy Pier. The pier is the state’s No. 1 tourist destination and the museum benefits from that. Signing a long-term lease can only do good things for both entities. If that includes some reasonable subsidies offered by Navy Pier, that’s a good investment,” Reilly said.

“I don’t know the terms of the lease deal, but it’s cause for celebration,” he said. “Not only does it promise a long-term, synergistic relationship that benefits the museum and the pier. It also marks the official end to the battle to save Grant Park and honors the legacy that Montgomery Ward left to Chicago, which is, ‘Grant Park, forever open, clear and free.’”

In June 2008, the City Council voted 33-16 to approve Daley’s controversial plan to build a $100 million Children’s Museum in Grant Park over the strenuous objections of 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.

The vote set off 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.

The following year, a Circuit Court judge sided with the Children’s Museum in a lawsuit filed on procedural issues. Opponents were waiting until ground was broken in Grant Park before filing a lawsuit based on the Montgomery Ward decisions, but they never had to pull the trigger. Fund-raising stalled. And Daley, political champion of the project, opted for political retirement.

As he prepared to take office, Emanuel portrayed an ongoing study on the future of Navy Pier as an “opportunity to reset the button” on the plan to build the museum in Grant Park.

The negotiations were politically delicate for Emanuel, since members of the Pritzker family, prime movers behind the Children’s Museum in Grant Park, were among the mayor-elect’s biggest financial backers.

Asked then whether he would be willing to offer the museum a government subsidy and cheaper parking for patrons at Navy Pier, Emanuel said, “The good news is while a lot of people thought pre-this election that it was a standoff — both related to Navy Pier and related to where the Children’s Museum was gonna be — since the campaign and since the election, there are discussions going on.”

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