As conversation about the location of the Lucas Museum on Narrative Art continues, we at The Nature Conservancy appreciate the growing consideration for protecting the ecological significance of this iconic part of Chicago’s landscape. While we object to any precedent that could weaken the power of Chicago's 1973 Lakefront Protection Ordinance that is so vital to lakefront protection, renovation of east McCormick has the potential to be a win for nature and people.
Most recently, the City’s proposal for repurposing the old Lakeside Center building at McCormick Place as the new location of the Lucas Museum offers potential benefits for local wildlife, adding several acres of parkland. McCormick Place sits directly in the center of a migratory bird corridor, which millions of birds pass through each spring and fall. The solid plate glass especially along the East face of the building is a significant killer of migratory birds. Replacing the Lakeside Center with a design that acknowledges the building’s location in the middle of a crucial migratory pathway could be an enormous improvement for migratory birds.
The redevelopment of McCormick Place offers other possible benefits to Chicago’s urban natural areas and wildlife as well. The city’s latest proposal will add more open space to the building’s footprint, contributing to the native plantings east of McCormick. Eventually these areas, which are awash with purple coneflower, milkweed and other essential native plants, will connect to broader plans to add native landscapes across the entire museum campus. These restored natural areas offer a range of benefits, from preserving the city’s biodiversity to creating essential pollinator habitat to providing our city’s residents with a beautiful escape into nature.
When architect Daniel Burnham created his Plan of Chicago in 1909, he said “The Lakefront by right belongs to the people.” The proposal for the Lucas Museum has the potential to draw millions of people, tourists as well as citizens from every part of Chicago, to enjoy a space that will unite culture, the arts, and nature. It will be a new way to enjoy the lakefront Daniel Burnham worked so hard to envision.
For all of these reasons, the City’s proposal to renovate the above-ground portion of east McCormick Place and improve it through “partial redevelopment” with the Lucas Museum should generate thoughtful consideration. As a global conservation organization dedicated to protecting the land and water on which all life depends, The Nature Conservancy advocates for open space, the protection of natural landscapes and the greening of cities. As noted in the May 2016 opinion from Opendlands CEO Jerry Adelmann, we also see the addition of the Lucas Museum as a step that honors and pays tribute to Daniel Burnham’s plan to reclaim the lakefront for the public.
We know that our lakefront is a jewel, drawing millions of visitors and diverse wildlife. The Lucas Museum has the potential to be part of that jewel – if done collaboratively and sustainably, it could offer a wide range of benefits for nature and people.