Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago

PULLMAN — By Labor Day 2020, a new visitors center should be open inside the historic Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building in the historic district.

It’s part of a multi-million dollar effort to revive the district, which is now the Pullman National Monument to honor the first model, planned industrial community in the United States

On Wednesday evening, the National Park Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources hosted an open house at the new Pullman Community Center — a hulking sports and community center  nearby — to unveil plans for the upcoming visitors center.

The event comes just two weeks after restoration work started on the Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building at 1057 S. Cottage Grove Ave., the former headquarters of the Pullman Company.

The building is slated to open to the public as the new visitor center on Labor Day weekend 2020, said Pullman National Monument superintendent Kathy Schneider.

The Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building. Credit: Historic Pullman Foundation

“The visitors center will tell the stories of labor history, urban planning and George Pullman,” Schneider said to a group of over 100 attendees. “All of the funds for the visitor center are raised except the final few million dollars.”

Credit: Pullman Historic Foundation

Schneider told Block Club that the National Park Service is investing over $13 million in the restoration and adaptive reuse of the clock tower and Administration Building. In addition, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — the agency which owns the property surrounding the former Pullman Company headquarters, as well as the former Hotel Florence — is assisting with financial and strategic support.

“The State of Illinois owned this site for a long time and didn’t have any resources to bring to the table,” said Ryan Prehn, Chief of Parks with Illinois’ Office of Land Management. “The absorption into the Illinois Department of Natural Resources brings real money now.”

Prehn, who has been involved in the planning and redevelopment of the site since 2015, said the State of Illinois acquired the property in April 1991 from the Perlow Steel Corporation.

The Administration Building and clock tower. Credit: Pullman Historic Foundation

On display at the open house were poster boards depicting the floor plans, programming and exhibits for the upcoming visitor center. Themes such as the planning and development of Pullman, the Pullman Strike of 1894, and the role of Pullman Porters in the civil rights movement will be highlighted in permanent exhibitions.

“It’s overwhelming hearing about all of the people who have worked on this and how everyone sees the neighborhood in different contexts,” said Pullman resident Jacob Hagan, who attended the open house. “What the National Park Service is doing is unique by pulling in multiple stories to highlight the broader picture.”

The Hotel Florence, named after George Pullman’s daughter, opened on November 1, 1881. Credit: Historic Pullman Foundation

While details surrounding the former Pullman Clock Tower and Administration Building are largely finalized, the State of Illinois is still determining what role Hotel Florence will play in the greater redevelopment of the historic district.

“The hotel really is the gateway between the industrial and residential sections of the historic district,” said Robert Appleman, Director of the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Realty and Capital Planning. “Work stalled out in 2014 but restoration of the first floor is back on and underway.”

Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago

Appleman, who also holds the title of Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, said his team is beginning to discuss future plans for the Hotel Florence and whether it’ll be operated by the state or used as vendor space. Regardless, Appleman added, the state will continue to control the site after its renovation is completed in the coming years.

Residents listen to a presentation about the visitors center being built in historic Pullman. Credit: AJ LaTrace/Block Club Chicago