Council approves Grant Park museum plan

CHICAGO The $100 million plan is the pet project of Mayor Richard Daley. And the mayor got what he wanted Wednesday by a vote of 33 to 16.

But opponents say they will take their battle to block the move to court.

This is a fight that has seen the proponents of this plan submit five designs for a museum that would be built under Grant Park at the site of an existing parking lot. It may sound like a better use of space. But as well-meaning as the project is, any building in Grant Park is not acceptable to opponents because that runs counter to age-old protections of Chicago's front yard.

"We are going to go ahead press forward, and if this passes today you are guaranteed litigation," said Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward.

Even before the council meeting, Reilly, in whose ward the museum would go, knew he would lose the vote.

But still, the debate over the plan to move the Chicago Children's Museum from Navy Pier to the northern edge of Grant Park was passionate and Alderman Reilly said saving Grant Park would be a legacy for Chicago's children who were invoked by proponents as the beneficiaries of the plan.

"That doesn't cost $100 million and it doesn't require us to violate these very special protections that have governed Grant Park since this city was founded, since a year before this city was founded," said Reilly.

More aldermen than usual spoke to the motion including Rey Colon, who liked what the non-profit children's museum wants to do but said no.

"Being the person who was elected to represent my people of Chicago and represent their point of view, I'm going to continue to represent them and vote no," SAID Colon, 35th Ward.

And with the galleries full, there was applause, too, when points like this were made.

"That proposed site, compared to everything else that is around it, you could almost qualify as a dump," said Ald. Danny Solis, 25th Ward. "And what is being proposed is a great enhancement to that area."

For Mayor Daley, the council vote is a win on an issue where he placed his prestige on the line. And longtime observers of City Hall say he put pressure on council to vote his way. But following the vote, he chose not to claim a victory.

"This is not personal. I have fought for children my entire life, and I will continue to fight for children," said Daley.

There are four Illinois Supreme Court rulings over 172 years that have kept Grant Park "forever open, clear and free," as legendary retailer and Chicago parks advocate Montgomery Ward sought in lawsuits a century ago. But alderman Reilly and his supporters, such as the green and open space advocates and city-design people, will fight in court. And he's warning that the city's taxpayers are the ones who will have to foot those, in his words, unnecessary bills.

And that will likely start with trying to get a temporary restraining order blocking construction.

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