Children’s Museum negotiating extension on Navy Pier lease

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NAVY PIER | Slow fund-raising stalls move to Grant Park

From the Chicago Sun-Times

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

July 13, 2009

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The Children’s Museum is negotiating an “open-ended” extension to its Navy Pier lease amid a fund-raising slowdown that threatens to stall its controversial move to Grant Park.

Ted Tetzlaff, chairman of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, said the museum’s troubles prompted McPier to open talks on an extension of a lease due to expire in 2010.

“It’s taken them longer than they figured to get their plans straightened out and financed. So, our people are working with them to extend their lease until they’re ready to move. It’s sort of open-ended,” Tetzlaff said Monday.

“We’ve made it clear to them they’re welcome for as long as they want to stay. … We realize they’ve made a decision to do something else. We’re just trying to accommodate them until they’re ready to go.”

Children’s Museum CEO Jennifer Farrington issued a prepared statement categorically denying a report by Crain’s Chicago Business that rising costs and a fund-raising slowdown had placed the move to Grant Park in jeopardy.

“Chicago Children’s Museum is moving forward with our plan to relocate to Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Grant Park. We are confident that we have made substantial progress, and that our donors, supporters and the community remain engaged, enthusiastic and wholly committed” to the move, she said.

Children’s Museum spokesman Eric Sedler characterized the Navy Pier lease negotiations as routine and part of a “regular review that happens between the museum and McPier” every year at this time.

“It would be a mistake for anybody to assume automatically that there is going to be an extension,” Sedler said.

He added, “There are absolutely no specific discussions in place having to do with any specific time-frame” for an extension.

In June, 2008, the City Council voted 33 to 16 to approve Mayor Daley’s controversial plan to build a new, $100 million Children’s Museum in Grant Park over the strenuous objections of downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd).

It was the first time in four years that the City Council had violated aldermanic prerogative — the treasured tradition of deferring to the wishes of the local alderman on zoning and development issues.

The vote set the stage for a marathon court fight over 172 years of legal protections — affirmed by four Illinois Supreme Court rulings — that have kept Grant Park “forever open, clear and free,” as Montgomery Ward sought.

Earlier this year, a Circuit Court judge sided with the Children’s Museum in a lawsuit filed on procedural issues. But, opponents are waiting until ground is broken in Grant Park before filing a lawsuit based on the Montgomery Ward decisions. The threat of such a lawsuit, coupled with the prolonged recession, has made fund-raising difficult.

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