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Design team for DuSable Park to be chosen this year, but concerns of more delays linger

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says a design team from the long-delayed DuSable Park will be selected this year.

Located at the base of the Chicago River near Navy Pier, the 3.3-acre parcel of land was dedicated 34 years ago by the late Mayor Harold Washington, who proclaimed it the future site of DuSable Park in honor of the city’s first settler and founder, Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable. The dedication occurred long before the city grew divided over the new ordinance that renamed Lake Shore Drive after DuSable last month.

Lightfoot used the undeveloped DuSable Park and the Riverwalk as an alternative to renaming the iconic road. But longtime supporters say the city committed to developing the park three decades ago, regardless of the new ordinance and today’s political climate. They say the city has not been urgent in fulfilling its promise that Mayor Washington made in 1987.

With the new ordinance in place and City Hall back to normal after racial tensions, there is concern that any plans to develop DuSable Park will continue to drag on without a timeline and accountability.

“We have encountered many broken promises related to this project and continue to have doubts about DuSable Park ever being completed. There has never been a timeline proposed for the completion of the park,” said Peggy Montes, president of the Friends of DuSable Park and member of the DuSable Advisory Council.

Montes, who worked in the Harold Washington administration, is also chairman emeritus for the DuSable Museum of African American History. Her non-profit, Friends of DuSable, formed in 1998, is the oldest organization honoring DuSable’s legacy, and advocates for the development of DuSable Park.

In response to an email asking for a timeline on its plans to develop DuSable Park, city spokesperson Victor Owoeye said the Chicago Park District is currently preparing to release the RFP for design and engineering services for DuSable Park. Owoeye said the Park District anticipates that a design team will be selected this year.

The mayor has committed to investing $40 million in developing the park that includes $15 million that is already committed for the development of the land. The investment includes $5 million in Open Space Impact Fees and $10 million from Related Midwest.

Montes and her organization are concerned that private funds from Related Midwest have the potential to further delay the DuSable Park’s development with its $1 billion plan to erect twin skyscrapers at 450 N. Lake Shore Drive that will be over 875 feet and 765 feet tall.

The project has been approved. But with building permits still needing approval for Related Midwest’s project, Montes is concerned that DuSable Park will be dragged into the process.
Montes cited the Chicago Spire development that was planned to be built near where the proposed twin towers are under consideration. The Chicago Spire development was scrapped after the developers filed bankruptcy in 2008. DuSable Park’s future was tied to the construction of the Chicago Spire.

DEVELOPER RELATED MIDWEST, which committed $5 million to the development of DuSable Park, will build twin skyscrapers across from site. (Rendering)

“So here we are again. Is this a park that the city is paying for as the mayor says or is this just passing the buck to a developer to pay for the park if they build their building?” Montes questioned.

For more than three decades, the city has dragged its feet on plans to develop the site after it was cleared of contaminated soil.

In 2000, the Chicago Park District drew public outcry after it announced plans to build a parking lot on the site. The plan was indefinitely postponed.

In 2001, Laurie Palmer, a former Art Institute professor, drew 66 proposals as part of a project called “3 Acres on the Lake.”

In 2006, several Chicago groups, including the DuSable Park Coalition and Friends of DuSable, put together an $11.4 million plan that would have included a history wall with a panel, a lakefront boardwalk and outdoor classroom.

Since Mayor Washington announced plans for DuSable Park more than 30 years ago, the Park District has built Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park and completed a $2.8 million restoration of Buckingham Fountain.

Last May, Lightfoot opened the $64 million Navy Pier Flyover, a half-mile steel and concrete pedestrian bridge that hovers over the undeveloped DuSable Park. Lightfoot was there at the ribbon-cutting ceremony to dedicate the Navy Pier project. There was no mention of the DuSable Park’s future during the ceremony.

“We are happy to see Mayor Lightfoot’s response to keeping her promise about completing DuSable Park, which was dedicated over 34 years ago by Mayor Harold Washington,” Montes said.

“The mayor’s proposal merely mirrors other sources of funding for the park. DuSable Park has not been independently funded by the city nor the Park District. This Park has been shackled to the development of 450 N. Lake Shore Drive.”

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