More than a year after the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture was called out for starting construction on a non-permitted facility in historic Humboldt Park, a community meeting has been scheduled to discuss the project's status and explore future possibilities for the structure.
The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m., Oct. 3, at the museum, 3015 W. Division St. Ald. Jessica Fuentes (26th) will lead the forum and Billy Ocasio, the museum's president and CEO, will participate.
At issue is a building museum officials have said will serve as an archive — a use opponents have questioned — for which the museum received state grant funds. Because the museum itself is housed in a designated Chicago Landmark, a strict approval and permit process was required prior to construction of this adjacent archive facility, neither of which was followed or obtained.
Public outcry brought the illegal construction to the attention of the Chicago Park District and Department of Buildings, and work was stopped on the building in fall 2022. The concrete block shell of the archive has remained standing, despite neighbors' call for demolition.
A lawsuit filed by the City of Chicago against the museum and Park District, related to the unpermitted construction, is pending.
In announcing the meeting, Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizarry said her organization has been working behind the scenes, holding conversations with Fuentes and the Park District, as well as meeting with Larry Kearns, an experienced architect hired by the museum — at the Park District's insistence — as a "coach" to help develop a path forward.
"Because of the lack of transparency and clarity in the communication to the public about the museum’s intentions, we have impressed upon ... elected officials the need for their intervention to make sure the public hears the full truth as part of being invited to chime in," Irizarry said.
That would include, she said, questioning Ocasio about the museum's grant application, which stated a plan to create a "Ravinia-style" concert venue on museum grounds.
Opponents of the archive building, including Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago, have speculated that the facility is actually intended to serve as an event center.
Ocasio, a well-connected former alderman, has previously said, "Some honest mistakes were made," a statement many have questioned given his political savvy.
"He knows exactly how the system works,” Seidel said.
The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture leases its building — officially known as the Receptory Building and Stable — from the Park District for $1 per year.
The castle-like Receptory Building and Stable dates back to 1896 and once housed the office of famed landscape architect Jens Jensen.