Kudos to Mayor Lori Lightfoot for forming a 23-member task force to reimagine the museum campus and research ways to make the destination a year-round attraction for visitors.
“The Museum Campus is an integral part of Chicago and an enormous contributor to the culture and economy of our city,” Lightfoot said in a statement Tuesday. “In order to maximize the benefits of its valuable assets, as well as to address larger campus issues, the endorsements of dedicated and talented community leaders are badly needed.”
Nearly a quarter of a century after the creation of the campus, the City is advised to consider a major overhaul of the site. Especially now, with the Chicago Bears considering leaving Soldier Field when their lease ends in 2033, the Shedd Aquarium is bracing for an eight-year, $500 million revival and the possibility of Lakeside Center being converted into a casino.
Improving an Urban Design Triumph
The 57-acre, park-like campus was created in 1998 when a section of DuSable Lake Shore Drive that separated the Field Museum and Soldier Field from the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium was moved west.
With the road gone, guests can easily visit campus destinations — or at least drive through them. The change also provided more much-needed lakeside green space.
The campus was a triumph of urban design at the time, but time has revealed weaknesses that the working committee must now strive to address.
For example, while DuSable Lake Shore Drive was relocated, large parking lots and boulevard-like access roads that were built as part of Soldier Field’s 2004 renovation – not to mention the existing parking lot for the Lakeside McCormick Place Center – gobble up far too much open space potential.
You can’t get rid of all that, of course, but a reduction would help.
Friends of the Park Executive Director Juanita Irizarry, a member of the working group, correctly raised this point.
“One of our highest priorities is to remind the city that Mayor Daley made a commitment to move the Soldier Field parking lots to the west side of Lake Shore Drive when the museum campus was established, and that commitment n was ever held,” she said. .
But the most important elements for the group will be to rethink Soldier Field and Lakeside Center.
The Bears signed a deal to buy the former 326-acre Arlington International Racetrack for $197.2 million with the goal of building a stadium there. The deal could be done this year, but the Bears have said they’re still willing to stay at Soldier Field, if a deal can be reached.
Either way, the future of the stadium may lie in making it, and the land immediately surrounding it, suitable for more cultural events and concerts. Months before starting the task force, Lightfoot said she wanted to improve the visitor experience at Soldier Field and increase stadium revenue year-round.
“It’s an amazing place for cultural and sporting events. Are there things that could continue? Should it be transformed? Should the new part of the stadium be removed and revert to the original? There are so many questions,” said Openlands CEO and President Jerry Adelmann, who was also appointed to the task force.
A renewed Lakeside Center would be an asset to the city.
This editorial board did not weigh in on the proposal to put a casino at the Lakeside Center and does not do so here.
But given the building’s vast spaces, along with its Arie Crown Theater and proximity to the North Island, the complex begs for restoration and some form of new public use. The task force would do well to consider a range of options for the structure.
Create a special place
Jack Lavin, a member of the task force and president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said a redesign would be a chance to “maximize the economic opportunities of the museum’s entire campus.”
Certainly, the campus should make money when it can. But if there’s a word of warning in all of this, it’s that the task force and the city should resist the urge to see a renovated museum campus solely as a revenue generator.
The guiding star should be the creation of a special place where Chicago’s lakefront, art, culture and open space design can be enjoyed by all.
This means creating a beautiful space that complements the museums, the stadium and (hopefully) the renovated convention center it neighbors.
It also means improving Metra and CTA connections so more people can get there easily without a car.
Make the Museum Campus even better and people will definitely come. And in this case, the city and the task force have enough time to get a good refresh.
The city can do nothing less than develop a quality plan that will help revitalize both the campus and the city.
Send letters to [email protected].