WEST LOOP — Chicago’s wndr museum, which started two years ago as an Instagram-friendly pop-up, is aiming to increase its footprint as it adapts to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic.
At a virtual meeting Monday, museum leaders pitched their vision to expand the museum from its current location at 1130 W. Monroe St. to include a neighboring building at 1144 W. Monroe.
“Think of it as a campus for curious and creative Chicagoans,” explained wndr museum’s Nora Daley. The combined space calls for additional art galleries, studios to produce virtual content, new bathrooms, a caterers’ kitchen, and a publicly accessible cafe serving food and beverages sourced from local restaurants and small businesses.
The plan also includes hands-on labs and maker spaces as well as a 300-seat theater envisioned as a lecture venue for wndr museum partner Chicago Ideas. Daley said those improvements are temporarily on-hold as wndr and other cultural institutions figure out how to respond to coronavirus.
“Due to the pandemic, everything is going to be in a virtual space for the near future,” Daley said. “The wndr museum is an immersive experience with a lot of touch and interactivity. So we have remained closed since March as we try to reimagine what the wndr museum experience will be when we reopen.”
The team is working with Harley Ellis Devereaux to renovate the interiors of both buildings, but the Chicago-based architecture firm hasn’t finalized their design quite yet, Daley said. The museum will continue to use timed ticket entry which limits guests to 50 per hour, in accordance with city and state rules.
The height and density of the existing Monroe Street buildings will remain unaltered, but owners will seek a zoning change in order to waive on-site parking requirements. Under current zoning, the project would require spaces for 51 cars.
Although the proposed change could open the door for a larger development in the future, zoning attorney Mara Georges ensured residents that won’t be the case.
“We understand the concerns that the neighbors have about [the requested zoning] and the fact that it makes the property very attractive to a future developer,” explained Georges at Monday’s meeting. “We are willing to do a Type 1 rezoning which requires you to build to the exact plans attached to the ordinance.”
Some neighbors took issue with the plan’s lack of attached parking. Others voiced concerns regarding past issues they’ve experienced living near the museum including pick-up and drop-off traffic jams and visitors crowding the sidewalk in front of the museum.
Daley said her team anticipated the parking concerns and engaged a valet operator and reached out to SpotHero.
Monroe Street residents Tim and Eileen Richardson said they were worried about the expanded space being used to host large events.
“The community fears that all this space could be rented out to private parties like weddings and that is a problem,” they said. “It would not protect and preserve the quality of life [in the area].”
Some residents suggested the museum negotiate a plan of operation with the city. Such an agreement could govern specifics like operating hours and delivery times. Officials could enforce the plan by revoking permits if necessary.
Carla Agostinelli, executive director of the West Loop Community Organization, which co-hosted the meeting with the 25th Ward Zoning Advisory Board, said her group has not had a chance to review the proposal in-depth. They plan to do so this week.
“These comments and questions are much appreciated and are somewhat reflective of our initial concerns,” Agostinelli said.
Museum leaders said they will continue to meet with members of the community. Residents of the 25th Ward can also submit comments to Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez and the 25th Ward Zoning Advisory Board using an online feedback form.
The wndr museum team did not share a timeline for when they hope to earn city approval, begin construction, or reveal the expanded space to the public.
“Everything is up in the air right now because of COVID,” Daley said.
The wndr museum opened in fall 2018 as a temporary exhibition featuring an “infinity room” by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. The following spring, the West Loop attraction announced its plans to become a permanent and “ongoing fixture” in Chicago’s cultural fabric.
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