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Roseland, Pullman

$56 Million Pullman National Monument Overhaul Has ‘Turned The Lights Back On’ In Historic South Side Neighborhood

Five years after receiving a national monument designation, Chicago's national park prepares for its 2021 debut.

An artist's rendering of the fully restored clock tower that will serve as the Pullman National Monument visitor center when it opens in 2021.
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PULLMAN — A multimillion-dollar effort to convert a Pullman’s once-thriving industrial corridor into a national tourist attraction is celebrating the progress that’s been made so far — and looking to the future.

To date, $56 million has been invested in “Positioning Pullman,” a plan created in 2015 to celebrate the rich, complicated history of the community and the people who once lived and worked there during the height of the labor movement.

Once completed, Pullman National Monument will draw over 300,000 visitors a year.

Over half of the 30 projects slated for completion on the site surrounding 11141 S. Cottage Grove Ave. are either done or in the final stages, including the restoration of the clock tower that will serve as the Pullman National Monument visitor center when it opens in 2021.

The Positioning Pullman effort is a labor of love for Lynn McClure, senior regional director of the National Parks Conservation Association.

“A few months ago some of us were thinking that we should regather and take stock of where we are to set ourselves up for the next set of priorities to work on,” said McClure.

McClure has seen the project go from a list of workshopped ideas to its current stage. When President Barack Obama designated the Pullman National Monument in late 2015, she was one of the first involved, soliciting ideas from hundreds of residents, engineers, planners, architects, and city officials that would become the “Positioning” blueprint.

Brownfield remediations can be costly. The cleanup of the 11-acre factory grounds came in at $34 million, with the National Park Service, National Park Foundation, IEPA, EPA and the state all chipping in. Then there were the streetscape improvements to 111th Street, with the restoration of historic lighting and a mid-block pedestrian crossing that will allow visitors to get from the Hotel Florence to the visitor center, all of which were handled by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

Next up? Renovation of the Greenstone Church, Market Hall and firehouse, along with the redesign and renovation of Pullman and Arcade Parks.

The reconstruction of the Workers’ Gate will allow for pedestrian access, giving visitors a chance to see it up close. (PROVIDED.)

“It’s amazing the difference a little bit of paint on Cottage Grove has made,” McClure said. “CDOT added bike lanes and a parking turn lane, and as a result the traffic on Cottage Grove is much calmer. I used to refer to it as a drag strip, and it’s nothing like that now.”

McClure said that CDOT is seeking additional funding to continue work on Cottage Grove Avenue from 115th to 130th, which may be in place by 2020.

Most of the completed work is on the factory grounds, with pedestrian access being restored, landscaping of the front and rear yards, reconstruction of the Workers Gate and Transfer Pit corridor, and the installation of architectural lighting.

‘It was the Google and Apple of its day’

The work being done in Pullman shows the importance of socially conscious design, according to Richard Wilson, an architect with Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill Architecture who serves as project lead.

“What’s been great about the monument is that it’s turned the lights back on in this area. It’s been a real asset for attracting new jobs to the community, and we’re starting to see small businesses that are there and can be supported. The goal is that we grow visitation as a result of the monument, and that creates more small businesses and employment opportunities,” Wilson said. “When that happens, it stabilizes the community, and elevates the housing value around the area.”

Right now, more than 15,000 people visit Pullman every year. Wilson estimates that number will grow to 300,000 once everything is finished, due largely to its national park designation. When visitors come to the historic site, they’ll learn how industrialist George Pullman’s ambitious experiment to solve poverty and unemployment set the stage for what would become one of the most violent labor uprisings in history.

“Pullman was one of the first to hire African Americans after the abolition of slavery, and that laid the foundation for the creation of the African American middle class,” said Wilson. “So in everything we do out in Pullman is teaching people about this ideal model town, and about how transformative it was. It was the Google and Apple of its day.”

To learn more about “Positioning Pullman,” and renovation efforts, check out the recently released report here.

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