Just a year after winning hard-fought City Council permission to move to Grant Park, the Chicago Children’s Museum has hit a financial wall, raising a real prospect that its highly controversial new facility in the park’s northeast corner may never be built.
A moribund economy now may have a better chance of blocking the project than lawsuits by parks activists and neighborhood opponents. Fundraising has foundered while projected costs have climbed by tens of millions to $150 million or more, Crain’s has learned. Sources close to the project say odds now are 50-50 at best that the Grant Park plan will proceed.
As a result, the museum is considering its options, including downsizing the proposed facility, getting a cash infusion from the Chicago Park District or extending the lease on its current space at Navy Pier as far as 2025.
Museum board Chairman Gigi Pritzker, who was not available for comment, could tap her personal fortune to bail out the project, were she so inclined. But short of that, signs are multiplying that the proposed facility is turning into one more headache for Mayor Richard M. Daley, who spent considerable political capital pushing the museum plan through the council in June 2008 over the opposition of the local alderman, Brendan Reilly (42nd).
According to the museum’s latest available income-tax return, filed in May with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s charitable trust division, the museum had $28.1 million in “pledges receivable” as of June 30, 2008 — just $1 million more than it did a year earlier. Much of that is believed to be a continuing naming-rights commitment for the proposed facility from Northbrook-based Allstate Corp., which says it still backs the project.
[Click to read more details of Museum move stalls out | Crain's Chicago Business]
Of course, wealthy heiress Gigi Pritzker could fund the construction out of her own vast wealth should she choose to, since she was one of the driving forces behind the whole fiasco, but the whole point was to get taxpayers to pay for the museum’s new location. Kind of like one of those sports stadium deals we fulminate against now and then. The Chicago Children’s Museum is a private museum, thus any profits collected will remain in the museum, and not the City of Chicago.Footnotes: