History of the Park and the Foundation
Millennium Park Foundation was established in 1998 as a nonprofit organization that shared the same vision as the City of Chicago for a world-class arts and cultural space in the Loop business district of downtown. How did it come about and why? First, we must tell the story of why this phenomenal Park was so instrumental in changing the landscape of Chicago’s Loop district.
Historically, Grant Park has been portrayed as the “front yard” of Chicago. It has served as the primary recreational area for generations of Chicagoans since it was officially designated parkland in 1844. Despite early 19th century legal restrictions that prohibited any development within the vacant premises, in 1852, the City of Chicago gave a significant portion of the land to the Illinois Central Railroad Company (ICR) in exchange for constructing a breakwater in Lake Michigan. This exchange resulted in the construction of an immense system of railroad tracks running between Chicago’s waterfront and the developing Loop district.
In 1909, Daniel Burnham laid out a master plan for the City of Chicago, calling for Grant Park to become the premier cultural center for the City. Because the City no longer controlled certain sections of the land; Burnham’s plan accommodated the existing railroad tracks and built Grant Park around them.
Evolution and Vision
Over the years, Grant Park evolved, and cultural amenities were added in and around it. However, a lingering eyesore remained – the Illinois Central Railroad tracks. Chicago’s long-sitting mayor, Richard M. Daley, found this blemish especially troubling (he was reported to have been particularly displeased with the view of it from his dentist’s office in a neighboring building). During the 1990s, Mayor Daley set out on an ambitious campaign to make Chicago one of the greenest cities in the United States.
Daley long viewed the northwest portion of Grant Park as an opportunity to provide additional public green space. With the help of his legal staff, Daley sought control of the land, which was then being used by the Illinois Central Railroad (ICR) as a parking lot. As a result, in 1996, the City filed a lawsuit against the ICR to regain some of the property within Grant Park. As it turned out, a provision in the original 1852 contract required the Railroad property to be used for railroad purposes, a function that the land no longer maintained. The Railroad therefore had to cede control of the property to the City. The re-acquisition of this land made Daley’s proposal for Millennium Park possible.
Establishment and Growth
Stemming from this achievement, the Millennium Park Foundation was officially established in 1998 as a nonprofit organization with the mission to curate and steward Millennium Park. In June 2004, a month before the Park’s commencement, the City announced that the Park would continue to be managed by the Millennium Park Foundation. On July 16, 2004, four years after initially estimated, Millennium Park officially opened to the public and the Foundation continues in this role today.
Millennium Park Foundation, along with several donors, hired various artists and architects to design and construct the sculptures and facilities found throughout the Park. Each new addition presented its own story of vision, risk, design, finance, construction and operation. As a result, the Park is an aggregate of the initial framework and individual additions that were not anticipated in the original plan. Yet at each stage, the framework for planning was flexible and neutral enough to enable a variety of alternatives to evolve successfully. Each project enriched the whole, adding to the critical mass of attractions, and thus to the ability of the Park to attract a diverse group of visitors.
Visit Chicago Public Library for more archival photos of Millennium Park.
Board of Directors, Staff, and Founders
The Millennium Park Foundation is privileged to be governed by an active and engaged Board of Directors and led by an equally motivated and involved staff.
Recognition of Excellence
Millennium Park, members of its Board of Directors, designers, architects, engineers and staff have all been recognized and honored by a variety of professional organizations since its inception in 2004.
Park Visitors Annually
Free Public Programs
Millennium Park Foundation in the Media
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