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Children’s Museum’s move to Grant Park looking less likely


There will be a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the Daley Bicentennial Plaza field house, 337 E. Randolph

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Bob O’Neill, who as head of the Grant Park Conservancy understands trees and planning as much as the political landscape when it comes to Chicago’s front yard, says it’s time to create a blueprint for the park’s north end without the Children’s Museum.

Fund-raising has waned, along with the economy, for outgoing Mayor Daley’s plan to build a $100 million museum in the park. And incoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who takes office in May, has been chatting about hitting the “re-set button” on discussions for a museum there.

So O’Neill scheduled a public meeting Tuesday night to talk about what’s next.

“The likelihood is diminishing, and I don’t want to wait around for an announcement that they’re not moving to Grant Park,” O’Neill said, referring to plans to build a Children’s Museum in Grant Park. “If I were to bet, I’d say they’re staying at Navy Pier.”

“It’s incredibly disappointing because the potential for that area is incredible,” O’Neill told the Sun-Times. Funding for the planned semi-subterranean museum at the corner of Columbus and Monroe included a new Park District field house next door — one of O’Neill’s pet projects.

On Tuesday, the discussion with neighbors will focus on whether they want to find a way to demolish the existing, leaky-roofed field house at 337 E. Randolph or rehab it.

But in talking with the Sun-Times last week about the field house — which the Park District estimates would cost $20 million — O’Neill also chatted about the entire 25-plus acre area known as Bicentennial Plaza. He says work will begin soon on an underground garage there and the green roof will be replaced. But will ongoing discussions about a plan to overhaul that stretch of the park materialize? “It’s a good question,” O’Neill said.

The Park District, which awarded a $4.2 million design contract to a New York landscape architecture firm, didn’t respond to questions about that.

O’Neill also talked about why he thinks a museum in the park is doomed, at least for now. He believes that with a non-profit set to begin running Navy Pier, there may be more incentive for the museum to stay there.

“The new non-profit, part of its mission is for Navy Pier to be open to more cultural events and drawing different events and reinventing Navy Pier,” O’Neill said.

As he prepares to take office, Emanuel has portrayed the 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 are 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.

Last week, Emanuel was asked whether he would be willing to offer the museum a government subsidy and cheaper parking for patrons at Navy Pier. “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,” Emanuel said.

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).

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.

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.

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