The Puerto Rican museum, which is housed in the Humboldt park receptory, began constructing an ancillary facility without proper permits, as seen on Feb. 20, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

HUMBOLDT PARK — The controversial archives center being built next to the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture will be demolished and a new one will be built along the neighborhood’s iconic Paseo Boricua corridor.

Officials are looking at two parcels on the 2500 block of West Division Street — 2533 W. Division St. and 2537 W. Division St. — as the location for the new archives center, Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) told neighbors at a community meeting hosted at the museum, 3015 W. Division St.

“I want us all to celebrate because community voice has been heard. We have responded to your wants and needs,” Fuentes said, drawing applause from neighbors.

The museum archives center will “house collections from across the world,” Fuentes said.

The plan comes more than a year after persistent outcry from neighbors opposing the construction of the 1,500-square-foot cinder-block facility next to the museum, which was advanced by museum leaders without proper city permit and approvals.

Billy Ocasio, formerly Humboldt Park’s alderman and now the museum’s executive director, previously shielded key details about building the archive center and repeatedly misrepresented the project to city and state officials, according to a damning 16-page report by a local preservationist.

Ocasio apologized to neighbors Tuesday and told them he is “looking to move forward.”

“We made a mistake. We were caught,” Ocasio said, stumbling on his words. “You guys called us on it.”

Billy Ocasio, executive director of the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, speaks at a community meeting Oct. 3, 2023. Credit: Jacqueline Cardenas/Block Club Chicago
Neighbors gathered for a community meeting at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., Oct. 3, 2023. Credit: Jacqueline Cardenas/Block Club Chicago

The city halted construction of the building last year and filed a lawsuit in July against the museum and the Chicago Park District, Block Club previously reported.

The case is pending in Cook County Circuit Court and the next court date is Nov. 2, Law Department spokeswoman Kristen Cabanban said in a statement.

Adam Corona, a longtime resident for 30 years, said the community was never informed about plans for the archives center.

“It was hidden from the beginning,” Corona said.

The city does not have a protocol that ensures alderpeople hear the community’s input about new projects coming to their wards, though some alderpeople engage with constituents in other ways.

“There are several alderpeople across the city who do both participatory budgeting and community zoning. It is a practice we are trying to push for the city because it’s what’s right,” Fuentes said.

Developments that go up “with no community input or any questions around what the impact will be, it’s often what has caused problems,” Fuentes said. “And if I’m honest, it’s why we feel the tension in the room.

“We are dealing with historical disinvestment in a particular group and then rapid gentrification and displacement of another, a problem that we all have to be a part of solving for.”

Ald. Jessie Fuentes (26th) speaks at a community meeting at the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, 3015 W. Division St., Oct. 3, 2023. Credit: Jacqueline Cardenas/Block Club Chicago

Neighbors at the meeting were visibly pleased to hear the unfinished archive center will be demolished.

Haiti Lopez, a neighbor who has lived in Humboldt Park for 54 years, said building the center on the Paseo Boricua corridor would be “wonderful.”

“[It] would bring people to all the businesses and I think that’s so important,” Lopez said. “I came here angry but now I’m so happy.”

Some who signed up for a turn at the microphone Tuesday yielded their speaking slots, saying they were content with the plans.

“I had a whole different testimony I wanted to share with you, which I had just thrown away,” said Ward Miller, executive director at Preservation Chicago, addressing Fuentes in front of the audience. Miller added his group is “very pleased to help.”

Ocasio said he has met with leaders at Preservation Chicago who offered suggestions for the space once the cinder-block structure next to the museum is razed: install a sculpture garden and create a glass-enclosed courtyard to host outdoor programming yearlong.

Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons was not immediately able to provide information on when the permit for the new archives center is expected to be approved.

Another community meeting will be held “maybe within the next month or two,” Fuentes said.

“We will allow some time for the architects to come up with the renderings, for the museum to give their initial feedback and have some agreement there before we bring it to the community,” Fuentes said.

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