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New Maggie Daley Restaurant Caught Up in Park Land Debate

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Yesterday, the Friends of the Parks came out swinging against the proposed glass-encased restaurant at Maggie Daley Park being pushed by the Grant Park Conservancy, saying that it violates the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and demonstrates how "this administration looks at parks as construction sites." The advocacy group also voiced opposition to a potential high-rise at Pritzker Park at 310 South State Street.

We spoke with Bob O'Neill, President of the Grant Park Conservancy, which supports the restaurant, as well as Cassandra Francis, President of Friends of the Parks, the advocacy group that opposes its construction, introduced a lawsuit to stop the Lucas Museum and fought against the Obama Library land transfer, to discuss their perspectives and how their disagreement about the restaurant plays into a larger debate about construction on the lakefront.

Despite its green roof and a design that attempts to blend in with surrounding parkland, the Maggie Daley Park restaurant is still an aboveground building and therefore a clear violation of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, says Francis. There are plenty of other spaces to place a restaurant near the park, she adds, and it's just not a fitting exception because of the convenient location, the same point she'd make about the Lucas Museum.

"We feel the frequency of this kind of construction request is just increasing," says Francis. "We're concerned about the precedent that it would set. Our city needs to be more creative about where to place these buildings and institutions."

O'Neill believes that the group's argument looks at the letter of the law without examining the bigger picture. The restaurant proposal extends green space via its roof in an "elegant manner."

"You need to have amenities to get people to use parks or they'll be dead space," he says. "This is an airy, open restaurant with a green roof that's very sensitive to the location. The Friends of the Parks also fought against the pavilions at Buckingham Fountain, and now people love them."

O'Neill also argues that, contrary to the idea that we're losing green space, the city has actually been expanding them, claiming Chicago has added 100 acres over the last few decades downtown via projects such as Lakeshore East and Maggie Daley Park. (We checked with the Chicago Park District, and a spokesman could only specify that the city has added "over 1200 acres of green space since 2000").

"The whole idea that the park system is under siege is irresponsible," says O'Neill. "They're standing by the letter of the law and barking up the wrong tree."

When asked about increases in green space, Francis says she is of course happy about additional acreage, but notes that we're under-parked as a city, citing a Trust for Public Land study that ranks Chicago 14 out of 18 high-density American cities in terms of percentage of parkland, well behind New York. Many community areas suffer from a deficit of parkland, she notes, and Chicagoans should respect the city forefathers who fought to keep the lakefront open.

"We should be fighting to protect all the green space downtown as we continue to grow and build," she says.

·Private Use of Public Land: Small Battles Foretell Coming War [Curbed Chicago]
·Previous Maggie Daley Park coverage [Curbed Chicago]
·Previous Friends of the Park coverage [Curbed Chicago]