Pictures and Illustrations.
Utilize the Lake Front.
(From the "Sunday Herald.")
Editor of the "Chicago Herald."
Sir: I am asked to state what I think of the project of the city's turning the Lake Front Park over to the South Side Commissioners, and thus parting with the control of it. As this would be a great wrong to the people of Chicago, and as it would benefit only a few individuals, I say it ought not to be done. I do not know just what the legal status of the title to the Park is, nor does it matter much, for the title must be either in the Federal Government, the State Government, or the city, or in all three, and if the city needs any further legislation, either Federal or State, to give an absolute title to this land, it can get it. If the people of Chicago once decide that they want legislation from any source, I repeat, they will get it.
The Park was originally intended for the pleasure of the people of Chicago. So long as it was suited for a park and Chicago was comparatively small, it served this purpose. But for a number of
206years the people of Chicago have derived absolutely no benefit from it, because it was no longer suited for a park, and its location made it practically inaccessible. The West Side, having more than half the population of the city, gets absolutely no benefit from it. The North Side derives no benefit from it whatever. Not one in a thousand of the people of the South Side derives any benefit or pleasure from it at all, nor would they if the ground were turned over to the South Park Commissioners. In the first place, the South Park Commissioners have not money enough to improve the grounds they already have as they should be improved. In the second place, as already stated, a little park in the business center of a city amounts to nothing, and it is safe to say that, even if the South Park Commissioners had the money, they could not so improve the park as to make it a resort for a very large number of the people of Chicago; it would always be what it has been for the last ten years, a more or less unsightly place with constant railroad annoyances on one side and business on the other. Now, in order that the whole people of Chicago, to whom it belongs, may derive any benefit from it in the future, it is necessary that it should be so utilized for all time to come as to derive an annual revenue from it, which the city could use to make parks, build libraries, build art institutes, make streets, build bridges, and make improvements of every character. I believe in parks, but want them where the masses of the people can enjoy them. And to show what an enormous annual revenue could be derived from this ground, I will say that I will take a lease of it and pay one million dollars annually into the city treasury, and I am satisfied that that is not half its value. I am satisfied that, if the title is once perfected, it can be leased for business purposes on ten or twenty year leases, providing for re-valuation every ten years, on a basis that will pay the city annually anywhere from two to three million dollars. This would again benefit all of the people of Chicago.
If it is turned over to the South Park Commissioners, nobody will derive any benefit from it, except the few people who have property fronting on Michigan Avenue opposite this park. So it is a question whether the people of Chicago should part with an annual revenue of from two to three millions of dollars for the sake of benefiting a few dozen property owners, who were fortunate enough to buy on Michigan Avenue. It is said that the park having been laid out, the owners of property on Michigan Avenue have an easement in the light, etc., to be derived from the park. I would say that there is perhaps some doubt about that. But if that be true, the revenue which would be derived from the ground in one year will pay the
207damages for taking this easement ten times over, and leave a surplus.
I am opposed to any scheme whereby the city shall part with the Lake Front. I am absolutely opposed to selling it, for if this were done the money would soon be gone and we would have nothing left. I am opposed to turning it over to the Park Commissioners, for the great masses of Chicago will get nothing out of it if this is done.
It should be handled as our school property is handled. Some of the most valuable property in the heart of the city, notably the ground on which the Tribune Building and buildings immediately south of it stand, and others which could be mentioned, is leased, as I understand, on ten year leases; that is, the lease provides for a re-valuation every ten years, the lessees doing their own building and owning the buildings. The Lake Front property can be handled in the same manner and produce the revenue I have stated. And for the common council, with or without the consent of the mayor, to part with this and get practically nothing in return, will be robbing the people of Chicago. Keeping it in control and using it as I have suggested, means that during the next generation the city will get one hundred millions of dollars, which it can use for purposes I have indicated.
If the World's Fair Commissioners need the park from now until after the Fair, let them have it; give them every privilege they need and every facility possible to use it. All of the people of Chicago are interested in the World's Fair, and will give the use of that or any other park for it. Therefore, I say, let the council pass an ordinance, giving the World's Fair Commissioners the right to use it. In the meantime get what legislation may be necessary to perfect the title, then run streets from Michigan Avenue to the lake, divide the ground into lots, and, in order to avoid even a suspicion of "boodle," rent these lots to the highest bidder on ground leases, with a provision for a revaluation, say, every ten after the first fifteen years.
July 5th, 1890.