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04.28.2011
Chicago Museum Out of the Park
Children's Museum likely to stay at Navy Pier after objections to Grant Park move.
Rendering of proposed new museum in Grant Park.
Courtesy Krueck + Sexton

A new chapter is unfolding in the ongoing saga of a new Chicago Children’s Museum. On March 23 museum officials stated that they were investigating the possibility of staying at Navy Pier, although they would not say the museum had abandoned its controversial plan to move to a site in the city’s Grant Park.

The museum announced in 2006 that it had outgrown the Wheeler Kearns Architects-designed space it has occupied at Navy Pier since 1995, and intended to build a new, primarily subterranean, home designed by Krueck + Sexton (K+S) Architects in the northeast corner of Grant Park. Fevered debate ensued, with opponents voicing objections on many grounds. Residents adjacent to the park complained about increased congestion. Parks and planning groups argued that building in the park violated the city forefathers’ mandate that the lakefront remain “forever open, free and clear.” The Tribune’s Blair Kamin mounted an ongoing campaign against both the architecture and its location, although he softened his objections a bit on the third or fourth design scheme.

The relocation had its supporters, however, with Mayor Daley chief among them. And after numerous revisions of the design, a divided City Council approved the plan in 2008. Since then, although various opposition groups have threatened lawsuits, not much has happened. Last April the museum extended its lease at Navy Pier for an additional year—its lease technically ended last September—with options to renew through 2013, 2014 or 2025, as it continued to consider location possibilities.

Museum officials issued a terse statement that they had “agreed to discuss whether the plans for a revitalized Navy Pier could support our goals for a new museum” while continuing to plan for a new home in Grant Park; they declined to grant interviews. The architects on the project acceded to the museum’s request to do likewise but remained confident that K+S would be working with the museum, irrespective of where it eventually situates itself.

One source suggested that the renewed negotiations might be connected to the new regime at Navy Pier, which last year was “divorced” from its uneasy 15-year alliance with the McCormick Place convention complex, under the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (McPier). The museum, which at times had a difficult relationship with McPier, hopes the new management might create a more comfortable set of circumstances.

Philip Berger