Grant Park rejuvenation plan calls for ‘balanced improvements’
August 7, 2010
A $30 million pedestrian passway is planned from Buckingham Fountain to the lake.

By Marie Balice Ward

Workers are renovating Grant Park across its length, from Randolph Street to Roosevelt Road. Improvements include a new park to the north, upgrades in the middle, and new plans for the far south end.

“We are striving to balance improvements throughout the park…north to south,” said Bob O’Neill, head of the Grant Park Conservancy (GPC).

Officials chose Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. to create a park over the Millennium Park parking garage, which workers are renovating. The site runs from Randolph to Monroe Street, adjacent to Millennium Park, although O’Neill emphasized the new park will not be an extension of Millennium Park but rather will complement it. “It will serve many purposes and many age groups,” he said.

At a community meeting, Van Valkenburgh described four landscape types to consider when designing a park. The first, civic, offers a gathering place such as the area around Buckingham Foun-tain.

The other three, he said, are “‘boundless’—use of technology to create long views, meandering views, and trails; ‘urban’—such as green markets and food kiosks; and ‘natural’—created landscape that achieves a natural appearance.” Valkenburgh’s firm is considering ideas such as including areas of shade and sunlight, spots for children’s recreation and entertainment, and quiet, contemplative areas. Those attending the meeting responded quite positively to including tranquil areas for reading and meditation.

O’Neill noted workers will move as many of the north area’s stately trees as possible to a nursery, where they will be cared for until the park opens in about five years. In addition, a new fieldhouse will replace the deteriorating Daley Bicentennial Plaza. As for the Children’s Museum, which officials plan to move to the north end of Grant Park, a lawsuit is pending to stop it from relocating there from its present site at Navy Pier.

For Grant Park’s middle area, planners have proposed narrowing and beautifying Monroe Street between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive; they also are considering beautification for Columbus Drive. O’Neill also mentioned a possible move for the Cancer Survivor Park to an area farther south in Grant Park, funded by the H & R Block Foundation; the topic raised dissension among the audience, however. Meanwhile, reconstructing Buckingham Fountain, installing new plumbing, and landscaping the surrounding area with new trees and seating continues.

Funding for the approximately $25 million cost is coming from the State of Illinois, City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, and Art Institute, among others. Nearby Queen’s Landing offers a “great opportunity for a corporate sponsor,” O’Neill said in reference to the proposed $30 million pedestrian passage way from Buckingham Fountain to the lake.

For Grant Park’s southwest edge, officials have just begun work on a $150,000 plan. O’Neill said this first phase “is likely to be funded by [real-estate developer] Jerry Fogelson,” and the GPC is negotiating with the estate of Lawrence Pucci to fund subsequent phases.

“We have an ongoing need for private funds for Grant Park, including corporate sponsorship,” O’Neill explained. He noted the GPC is promoting “philanthropy with parks” to channel philanthropic funds toward maintaining and renovating parks; this model is “working well” in New York City and “is likely to succeed” in Chicago.

Already, however, workers have planted 100 new trees, mainly in the south end of the park, and the Daniel Burnham memorial is proceeding despite some GPC objections that it is taking away some open green areas in the museum campus.

Planning for north and south edge renovations will continue throughout this year and include numerous community meetings.

Updates will be available on the GPC website,, throughout the process.

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