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The long-delayed plan to rehab Chicago’s DuSable Park creeps forward

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The City of Chicago has authorized a further cleanup of the lakefront peninsula’s contaminated soil

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Though first dedicated as public open space in the 1980s, Chicago’s unfinished DuSable Park is finally ready to start taking shape. The Chicago Tribune reports that the Chicago Park District board awarded a $1.4 million contract to Industrial & Environmental Services to remove contaminated soil from the site. Not to be confused with the South Side’s similarly named DuSable Museum of African American History, the downtown park is situated on an undeveloped 3.3-acre peninsula of reclaimed lakefront land east of North Lake Shore Drive between the mouth of the Chicago River and the Ogden Slip.

While the site had its surface soil combed free of radioactive materials leftover from Chicago’s old Lindsay Light and Chemical Company facility years ago, a more recent EPA report concluded that additional subsurface work is still required. Expected to begin next month, the next phase of decontamination will be financed by funds awarded in a 2014 legal settlement with Lindsay Light.

The latest clean-up effort is only the beginning of DuSable Park’s long-discussed transformation from overgrown vacant land to a finished public amenity. The plan is tied directly to the redevelopment of the neighboring parcel at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive—the site of the abandoned 2,000-foot Chicago Spire megatall skyscraper.

A map of the multi-phase Navy Pier Flyover. While a ramp connecting the elevated pathway to DuSable Park is possible, no such connection is shown in plans.
Navy Pier Flyover

Though Related Midwest now controls the high-profile parcel, the developer must still honor a preexisting agreement to commit $4.1 million to improve the DuSable plot. The Chicago-based developer has remained tight-lipped on its future plans for 400 N. Lake Shore Drive and the gaping pit left behind by the Spire project. Changing the terms of the agreement would require the approval of the Chicago City Council.

While new public open space along Chicago’s waterfront is always a welcome addition, the DuSable project still has to contend with poor connectivity. Isolated from the rest of downtown by the double-decker behemoth known as Lake Shore Drive, getting future visitors to and from the park could prove difficult. Though an upcoming phase of the Navy Pier Flyover will run over the top of the park, there appears to be no plan to directly connect DuSable Park to the elevated bike and pedestrian trail.

Creating better access to the DuSable parcel was a key component of Gensler Chicago’s bold conceptual study for the former Spire site. Though much more of a design exercise than an active development proposal, the architecture firm’s megatall “Gateway Tower” connected to the park via new pedestrian trails and dramatic structural outriggers extending over Lake Shore Drive. Gensler’s fanciful vision even included a funicular tramway that would travel up and down the angled supports.

Gensler’s bold “Gateway Tower” conceptual design explored several ways to connect DuSable Park to the rest of the city.
Image courtesy of Gensler

Prior to the Park District’s latest move to cleanup DuSable Park, the lakefront site was back in the public eye last year as discussions to build the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art between the City of Chicago and group the Friends of the Parks unraveled. Improving DuSable was one of several negotiating points put forth by the advocacy group. Star Wars filmmaker George Lucas ultimately abandoned his plan to build his eponymous museum in the Windy City, instead opting to bring his collection of art and movie memorabilia to Los Angeles.