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After sitting idle over the Pullman community for decades, the old administration building and the Pullman Company clock tower is ready to begin its new life and career as a visitor center for the Pullman National Monument. The renovated and redesigned building will open to the public this Labor Day weekend, with celebrations starting at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, September 4.

Ongoing preservation and renovation plans for the historic building became increasingly crucial after the late 1990s, when it was severely damaged by fire. However, a proclamation by President Obama in 2015 paved the way for national monument status and management by the National Park Service. The industrial city of the Victorian era played a central role in the history of labor and civil rights in the United States, and this context is displayed and explored through the facilities of the new visitor center.

Teri Gage is the superintendent of Pullman National Monument, Chicago’s first and only national park, and says there were plenty of moving parks and actors involved in the $ 35 million effort to renovate the clock tower building and its 12 acres of land.

The main entrance to the reception center. Photo: AJ LaTrace.

“The land here belongs to the Pullman State Historic Site, which falls under the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, but the clock tower building is owned by the National Park Service,” she explains. “Construction started about 17 months ago and it hasn’t really been occupied since 1958 when Pullman left. “

But the new visitor center will have both a symbolic and tangible impact on the community, not only as a sign of new investment and rebirth, but also by promoting Pullman and the far south of Chicago as a destination for tourism and educational programming. Gage says the National Park Service estimates that when the site is fully redeveloped, the park could expect more than 300,000 visitors each year.

At present, the 10,000 square foot first floor of the Visitor Center is complete and ready for its debut, but there is still a 10,000 square foot second floor, the sprawling building wing on the side of the building and hull of the aft assembly shops which will also be built in the future. Gage says it remains to be seen how these spaces will be used.

“Immediately after the grand opening, the visitor center will be open seven days a week,” Gage said. “And we will be offering tours, both in the building and on the factory site, as the staff allow us to do, we are going to depend on some volunteers to be able to do some of these additional programs.”

Gage says his team currently consists of eight full-time National Park Service employees, but encourages anyone interested in the national monument to consider volunteering for tours and programming.

The old erection stores on the side of the building. Photo: AJ LaTrace.

Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI), which has been involved in virtually all new industrial and commercial developments at Pullman over the past decade, served as the site developer, coordinating with key stakeholders – the State of Illinois, the National Park Service, National Park Foundation and Historic Pullman Foundation – to oversee project construction and coordination between contractors.

David Doig, the chairman of CNI, said there would also be new jobs and increased economic output from the Pullman community, referring to a 2013 report by the city of Chicago and the CNI, which suggests that a presence in a national park in Pullman could help support the creation of 300 new jobs and more than $ 40 million in annual economic benefits for the neighborhood after the first decade.

“I think the message is that this is just the start,” Doig said of the completion of the first phase of the national monument site. “We get the welcome center, but there is still more to come. We need to create momentum around increasing the number of visitors, creating more attractions and creating more assets for the community.

A rendering shows what the site of the national monument could look like one day. Image via CNI.

The Doig team coordinated closely with Bauer Latoza Studio, who handled the design work, and general construction contractor GMA Construction Group, who carried out the renovation of the historic structure and built the new center space. reception on the first floor of the building.

Completing the work on such a large building presented challenges, said Cornelius Griggs, president and CEO of GMA. From fine details such as matching the color of the existing brick to more intensive work such as rearranging load-bearing steel brackets to open up the space, the construction team had to overcome many hurdles for the overhaul.

But beyond the technical aspects of the renovation, taking on the job was a professional and personal highlight, adds Griggs.

“It was a personal passion for me, as an African American entrepreneur in the city of Chicago, to be able to put my company name and my name on the revitalization of the Pullman National Monument and what it means for my heritage. , our culture, and to the Pullman Porters, ”he explains.“ For me, this is the highlight of my career so far, so I’m extremely excited about it and can’t wait to see it all. ‘inauguration.”

The Visitor Center offers a recreation of a Pullman Palace car. Photo: AJ LaTrace.
A showcase of historical objects related to Pullman Porters. Photo: AJ LaTrace.
A close up of the details of the brick and the skylight. Photo: AJ LaTrace.
Photo: AJ LaTrace
A rendering of the completed workers’ entrance on 111st Street. Image via CNI.

This article also appears in the October 2021 issue of the Illinois Real Estate Journal.