A federal “Section 106” review has begun that promises to protect the Pullman National Monument from a harmful development, but you’d never know it given the scant media attention the review has received.
The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board published “The Obama center, now a federal case” on Dec. 12, 2017. In it, they explain how a federal “Section 106” review could minimize harm to Jackson Park, a “jewel too precious to be irrevocably marred.” However, what the Tribune’s Editorial Board and others have overlooked is that another—no less important—federal review is underway for another of the city’s jewels: The Pullman National Monument. This Section 106 review has truly become a federal case.
In 2015, a real-estate developer advanced controversial plans to plop a modern apartment building between two historic workers’ tenement block houses and directly on top of the archaeological remains of a third. The project site is within the authorized boundaries of the Pullman National Monument and Pullman National Historic Landmark District.
Pullman is a thriving community. Long-recognized as a city, state, and national landmark, it was declared a “National Treasure“ by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2014 and a National Monument by President Obama in 2015.
The developer claims its project is needed to “anchor” this “historic neighborhood.” But the position of the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society is that the project as conceived is more albatross than anchor.
If the new construction is permitted as proposed, it will destroy significant archaeological resources, violate seminal design principles of “America’s first planned industrial community,” and diminish Pullman’s National Historic Landmark integrity.
Protecting the public interest in the Pullman National Monument has been an uphill climb. With the help of our attorney Thomas J. Ramsdell, our organization has fought tirelessly to bring improper and potentially unlawful state issued project “clearances” to the attention of federal authorities.
We voiced our concerns to the National Park Service, but they claimed they had no power to protect historic resources situated on private lands within the Pullman “National Monument Boundary.” We questioned why they would make such a claim when their own regulations appear to suggest otherwise. We found a possible answer when we learned that the National Park Service executed an agreement for the construction of a new, $10 million visitors center for the monument with the developer of the controversial project.
Fortunately, the project hit a roadblock when it sought funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). According to the developer’s Sept. 27, 2017 email, HUD determined that the Illinois State Historic Preservation Officer "has not conducted its Section 106 reviews in accordance with federal statute, and as such are invalid.” Consequently, HUD appears to have required this “do-over” federal review for the project.
This federal review is now underway, and like its counterpart in Jackson Park, it has the potential to “minimize harm” to one of Chicago's treasures. But thus far, this review hasn’t attracted the media attention that the Obama Presidential Center’s review has. We hope this will change now.