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Long-discussed blues museum eyes permanent location in Chicago’s Loop

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The 50,000-square-foot tourist attraction hopes to make its ‘sweet home’ below 25 E. Washington Street

A rendering of the Blues Experience Museum
Image via Crain’s

After years of lobbying, fundraising, and false starts, the city that is credited as the birthplace of blues music is finally preparing to build a permanent museum dedicated to the uniquely American genre. Known as the Chicago Blues Experience, the upcoming for-profit institution hopes to make its home at 25 E. Washington Street in the heart of Chicago’s Loop. According to Crain’s, the attraction will occupy three subterranean levels and feature various blues artifacts, interactive displays, and a 150-seat lounge offering both live performances and a menu of small plates.

Though Chicago’s Central Business District may seem like an unlikely spot to highlight a musical movement that traces its roots overwhelmingly to the city’s South Side, the location was picked to be tourist friendly and compliment other nearby cultural attractions such as the soon-to-open American Writer’s Museum and Millennium Park’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. The latter was recently announced as the new home for the annual Chicago Blues Festival—an event that is expected to collaborate with the upcoming museum.

As far as funding is concerned, Crain’s reports that the project has already raised $25 million in equity capital of its budget of $30 million. The organizers behind the museum previously raised $40 million for a potential location at Chicago’s Navy Pier but were forced to change plans and return much of the money after the city decided to pursue a 240-room hotel in its place. With important pieces of the latest plan falling neatly into place, the museum’s boosters are bullish regarding recapturing previously pledged donations as well as attracting new patrons to the project.

Design of the 50,000-square-foot museum will be overseen by L.A.-based BRC Imagination Arts. Much like the National Blues Museum that opened in St. Louis in 2015, the Chicago Blues Experience will be a Grammy Museum Affiliate and will host special events, performances, and lectures from prominent and up-and-coming blues musicians. It is expected to create 90 permanent downtown jobs and at least $99 million in annual tourism revenue when it opens in the spring of 2019.

An older, 2015 rendering of the "The Chicago Blues Journey" slated for Navy Pier.
BRC Imagination Arts via Chicago Tribune