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Puerto Rico museum to demolish controversial addition

It’s hard to miss the reddish-brown, castle-like building on West Division Street when driving through Humboldt Park.

Built in 1895 to transport horses and carriages, the two-story Reception Building and Stable features diamond-paned windows and an elaborately designed courtyard. It looks like a “very unusual” piece of German architecture in Chicago. Chicago Park Districtand hosts National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

But when the museum began construction nearly a year ago — without proper permits — on its cinder-block archives building next to the Chicago landmark, some residents and preservation groups raised alarm, calling it an eyesore and tarnishing the area’s historic appeal. Include sufficient community input.

Before a crowd of about 100 people at a public meeting on Tuesday, the museum’s president and CEO, Billy Ocasio and a former city council memberpromised to demolish the partially constructed archive and collection building. With the help of Ald. Jessie Fuentes, 26, plans to move the archives off-site, Ocasio said.

“I want to apologize to the community for the missteps we made when we started working on this project,” Ocasio said. “I should have been more aggressive in seeking clarification from the various departments involved in such an effort, and as a result I take responsibility for the negative reactions some in the community had to the project.”

After neighbors reported the construction to 311, the city’s Building Department issued a stop-work order in September 2022, finding that the project did not have the necessary permits or approvals. The museum, which received a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for the construction of the archives building, also did not receive permission from the Park District, as stated in the lease.

“Proper procedures detailed in the lease must be followed, including the District’s prior written approval for construction,” Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons said. “Additional approvals, including permits from the city, are also required. While the Museum works on this process, the District wants to engage the community and will contribute to these plans.”

The city of Chicago sued the museum and the Park District in July for failing to comply with city rules.

With hurricanes and earthquakes in Puerto Rico, Ocasio said many of the island’s “national treasures are in danger” and archives represent a vital resource. He said that last year they brought 21 pieces dating back to 1786.

However, Ocasio said that a new archives building would be costly. The museum will launch a capital campaign next week, he said, estimating it will take about $3 million to $5 million. Ocasio also said she hired an independent architect and legal team to help send the documents correctly.

Fuentes, elected this year, is located at 2533 and 2537 W. Division St. on Paseo Boricua, a historic section of Division Street. He said he found two parcels of land located between two large statues of waving Puerto Rican flags. A good home for the museum’s archives building. His office announced that these parcels were evaluated, but their ownership was not transferred to the museum.

Fuentes said he did not yet have a date for when construction of the new building and demolition of the existing building would begin, but he hoped to expedite the permitting process.

“We do not have a timetable. Because we will be involved in a social process again,” he said. “There is one issue I want to be transparent about; the museum deserves an archive center and will deserve it soon. However, we will not rush, make setbacks or missteps for the sake of a building.

Fuentes said: museumThe venue where the wedding takes place is indispensable to the community. According to that Web siteThe museum is “dedicated to the promotion, integration, and advancement of Puerto Rican arts and culture” and is the only free-standing museum in the country dedicated to presenting Puerto Rican art and culture exhibitions throughout the year.

“The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture remains the institution that showcases to the city and the world the beautiful talents that our people have, but more importantly tells the story of a 100 x 35 (mile) island that resisted colonialism, imperialism and global gentrification,” Fuentes said. . “We must be committed to showcasing the best of Puerto Rico and the most talented individuals of our island and our diaspora.”

After the archives building is demolished, Ocasio said she plans to use the space as an outdoor programming space. He also said that he wanted to build a sculpture garden in front of that place and surround the courtyard of the museum building with glass, allowing events regardless of the season.

“As soon as we go through the approval process with the Park District, we will create visuals at the museum for public viewing,” Ocasio said. “We will also begin demolition once the Park District approves it and we obtain the necessary permits.”

Since the unauthorized construction began, Preservation Chicago has been one of its most prominent critics. The nonprofit organization released a statement 16 page reportHe compiled dozens of documents showing that the museum misrepresented the extent of construction and provided conflicting information to various government agencies. Some documents described the project as a 1,500-square-foot archives facility, while others described it as a 6,800-square-foot event center. Preservation Chicago also found no evidence of soil engineer analysis that the report said could pose a safety risk.

“This is a great asset to the City of Chicago and the nation and appears to have preserved the historic receiver and stable building in good condition,” the report said. “However, none of these good works and benefits should mean allowing the illegal construction of a new building on public land. “This sets a dangerous precedent for future illegal construction on public land and does not ensure the public health and safety of future visitors.”

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said Tuesday he was pleased with Ocasio’s new plan. The nonprofit also agreed to help raise funds for the project.

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“I love the idea of ​​the permanent building, and I love this wonderful space to be able to see the sky, to be able to use it as a sculpture space, to be able to use the space there in the archives building as a sculpture and an event. place,” Miller said.

Juanita Irizarry, general manager of Friends of the Park, also said she was “very happy that we were able to move forward in a healthy way.” He said he met with the Park District, Fuentes and other elected officials to help find a solution.

“I think we might be very excited about building community, building Puerto Rican institutions, and want to do it right,” he said. “My father, who is Nuyorican, used to tell me, ‘Dude, you’re more Puerto Rican than I am,’ and it’s because of this community, Puerto Rican institutions, and so many people in this room.” A Nuyorican is a person born in Puerto Rico or a current or former resident of New York City.

Some residents who attended the meeting thought concerns about the development were overblown and said they wanted to see the same level of anger about gentrification in the neighborhood.

“Let’s ask ourselves, why are we here? And if you’re really here because you believe in community, because you believe in the possibilities of living in a city… where it’s not dominated by a minority, where we have to ask for permission to build a simple building, and yet it’s all incredibly terrible. “There are condos everywhere, and where are your voices?” said José López, executive director and co-founder of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. said.

“In the spirit of reconciliation and redemption, we must ask ourselves, to each of you who used all your energy to come here and take action, should we use your energy to build this institution, build this community, and support businesses in this community? ” said López.

rjohnson@chicagotribune.com

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