“A former alderman who leads a Humboldt Park cultural museum shielded key details about building an archives and storage facility in the park and repeatedly misrepresented the project to city and state officials, according to a new report from a local preservationist.
“The 16-page report by Mary Lu Seidel, director of community engagement with Preservation Chicago, details years of conflicting information about and problems surrounding the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture’s unauthorized expansion.
“Neighbors and preservationists sounded the alarm last year about the half-built cinder-block building that spouted up next to the museum, which is housed in one of the oldest-surviving structures in Humboldt Park: the landmarked receptory and stables building at 3015 W. Division St.
“Former Humboldt Park Ald. Billy Ocasio runs the museum, which was ordered to stop construction in October when city officials learned the project got underway without proper permits and approvals.
“Seidel reviewed hundreds of documents and records obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The report found museum leaders misrepresented the scope of the project and changed plans “with little or no input from the Humboldt Park community, people of Chicago or the Chicago Park District,” and even lied on a city permit application.
“In building the ancillary facility, the Humboldt Park museum “violat[ed] the rules, procedures and laws of every government institution it encountered,” Seidel wrote.
“Ocasio didn’t respond to requests for comment. He previously told Block Club “some honest mistakes were made” and the museum is working to correct any issues.
“The documents in the report date back to 2020, when Ocasio applied for a $750,000 state grant to build an 1,500-square-foot archives and storage facility next to the museum. Ocasio previously said the project is “very important” to the future of the institution.
“Documents show Ocasio failed to submit necessary paperwork and provided conflicting information to city and state agencies involved in that approvals process.
“‘Every process was ignored, violated or skirted,’ Seidel said in the report.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 2/23/23)