WIN: Illegal Construction in Humboldt Park will be Demolished!

Ward Miller and neighbors gathered for a community meeting at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., Oct. 3, 2023. Photo credit: Jacqueline Cardenas / Block Club Chicago
Ward Miller and neighbors gathered for a community meeting at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., Oct. 3, 2023. Photo credit: Jacqueline Cardenas / Block Club Chicago

“At a standing-room-only community meeting held Tuesday night, October 3, 2023, to discuss the fate of an illegal building in Humboldt Park, Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) wasted little time getting to the point.

“The partially constructed building will be demolished, Fuentes announced to cheers from the crowd.

“The building, intended as an archive facility for the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, has been at the center of controversy for more than a year, after neighbors saw it rising with no prior notice.

“Objections ranged from aesthetics incompatible with the museum’s main building — housed in the park’s landmarked Receptory and Stable, which the museum leases from the Chicago Park District — to the underhanded manner in which the museum skirted Chicago’s permitting process.

“Billy Ocasio, the museum’s president and CEO, apologized to the gathered crowd for ‘missteps we made’ in failing to obtain proper permits and approvals for the facility. ‘I’ve apologized,’ Ocasio said, when pressed further. ‘I’m looking to move forward.’

“It was a sentiment echoed by Park District General Superintendent and CEO Rosa Escareño.

“Her team, Escareño said, had stepped in to help ‘ight-course’ the project envisioned by the museum. ‘I don’t want to go back, I want to go forward,’ she said.

“As a compromise, Fuentes said her office had identified vacant parcels on Division Street where the archive could be built — this time with publicly submitted renderings and all t’s crossed and i’s dotted, she promised.

“‘The museum deserves an archive center and it deserves one soon,’ said Fuentes, who emphasized the importance of the museum’s mission of ‘showcasing the best of Puerto Rico from our island and our diaspora.’

“‘Thank you for proposing this viable alternative,’ he said to Fuentes.

“The solution also included the retention of the foundation of the illegal building, for possible use for future programming. In addition, Ocasio said he would pursue suggestions made by Preservation Chicago to top off the museum’s courtyard with a glass roof and remove the tent currently used as an event space.

“‘We’re here to help and we want to be your partner,’ said Ward Miller, executive of Preservation Chicago, who declared himself “very pleased with the outcome” of Fuentes’ negotiation. (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 10/4/23)

“Neighbors and preservationists raised the alarm about the facility nearly a year ago, questioning how it was allowed to go up with no public review and little regard for the museum’s architectural history. They’ve since pushed the city to tear down the structure and move it away from the receptory and stables.

“Mary Lu Seidel, director of community engagement with Preservation Chicago, issued a damning 16-page report earlier this year detailing how Ocasio repeatedly misrepresented the scope of the project to local officials.

“Seidel reviewed hundreds of documents and records tied to the construction and found that museum leaders hid key details, changed plans ‘with little or no input’ from officials and neighbors, and even lied on a city permit application.

“Documents show Ocasio didn’t file for a city building permit until after construction had already started and provided conflicting information to city and state agencies involved in that approvals process, the report said. (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 8/16/23)

Preservation Chicago is thrilled with this outcome. We played a central role in helping to amplify and document this illegal construction. We worked closely with neighborhood partners including Humboldt Park resident Kurt Gippert who launched the Change.org petition, and like-minded organizations including Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.

Ward Miller meet with leadership from the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and their design team to help them try to find a workable way forward. Many of these creative alternative ideas were incorporated and were presented at the public meeting as the path moving forward. These ideas included the demolition of the partially built cinder-block structure and using the concrete pad as a sculpture garden, create a glass-enclosed courtyard, inspired by the Three-Arts Club, in the historic structure to allow for year-round programing and to eliminate current white tent, and relocating the archive building and use to a nearby location beyond the greenspace of Humboldt Park.

We appreciate Billy Ocasio’s gracious recognition and gratitude to Ward Miller and Preservation Chicago during the public meeting for playing such a helpful role in finding a way to forward.

Read the full story at WTTW Chicago

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