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Plan Commission approves restaurant at Maggie Daley Park

The skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park is among the attractions that have proved successful beyond anyone's expectations. | File photo

The wildly successful park named after former First Lady Maggie Daley will have its own restaurant with terms dramatically different than the sweetheart deal that benefited clout-heavy investors of Park Grill in Millennium Park.

The Chicago Plan Commission sealed the deal Thursday by approving the 8,000-square-foot restaurant at 352 East Monroe after 11th-hour design concessions tailor-made to appease Friends of the Parks.

“After many months of negotiations, Friends of the Parks has provided a letter of support for the project,” Executive Director Juanita Irizarry wrote in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly said “painstaking” negotiations with Friends of the Parks and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) cut the restaurant floor space in half.

The height has also been reduced. It’ll rise to 27 feet — counting a protective guard rail and green roof that will essentially become a continuation of the park.

“We knew there would be pushback. . . . If there was a problem with the height, both of them would have been against us on this,” he said.

The restaurant will be built and operated by the Four Corners Tavern Group, owner of 10 other bars and restaurants.

Chicago Parks Supt. Mike Kelly said the new restaurant in Maggie Daley Park will be a better deal for taxpayers than Park Grill. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Chicago Parks Supt. Mike Kelly said the new restaurant in Maggie Daley Park will be a better deal for taxpayers than the Park Grill. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

The deal calls for the Park District to get $75,000 in annual rent, along with a sliding scale of gross sales ranging from 5 to 10 percent. Four Corners will also pay utility costs.

“It’s not the Park Grill. In fact, we were painstaking in our efforts to make sure that this wasn’t the Park Grill. It’s a good deal for the taxpayers. It’s a fair deal. . . . It’s going to be very popular and generate a lot of revenue for the taxpayer,” Kelly said.

“We desperately need the concession. We desperately need the revenue,” he said. “It’s been my goal since we built Maggie Daley Park to operate the park budget neutral, if not in the black. . . . You can’t keep building 20-acre parks with no source of revenue.”

Maggie Daley, wife of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, was a champion of the arts and the driving force behind the After School Matters program, which helps occupy and educate Chicago young people. She died on Thanksgiving Day in 2011 after a nine-year battle against metastatic breast cancer; she was 68.

The $60 million park dedicated in her name opened in December 2014 and fast became a magnet for children and parents. It features an innovative ice-skating ribbon and rock climbing walls for adults.

Given those crowds, the restaurant, now expected to open sometime next year, is sorely needed — both for its food and also for its washroom facilities. A snack kiosk is the only current food option. And the only public washrooms are in the renovated field house at the north end of the park.

On Thursday, Kelly marveled at the success of Maggie Daley Park, even before the restaurant gives parents a place to take a break and grab a bite to eat.

“I was taken aback by how wildly successful it was from Day One. . . . When we rented 70,000 pairs of skates the first year, that was shocking to me,” the superintendent said.

“The height of it is so inviting and then, the skating rink. [Daley Bi-Centennial] was a park you never went into in the winter. Now all of the sudden, there’s a reason to go there. It’s a destination,” he said. “You can’t underestimate how many people will rent skates and go out there when it’s 20-below zero. It’s pretty amazing.”

Kelly attributed the success, in part, to the “built-in audience” created by the fact that Maggie Daley Park is “bookending with Millennium Park.”

“It’s the location. . . . It was the bridge to nowhere. Now, it’s the bridge to somewhere. . . . It gets people closer to the lake,” he said.

Friends and relatives of Richard M. Daley were among the original investors who landed a lucrative sweetheart deal to run the Park Grill.

A Sun-Times editorial called the deal “a classic case of how money and clout grab the inside track in Chicago, seemingly for the benefit of a small group of people who all know each other, doing the rest of us no favors.”

Under the deal, awarded in 2002, the Park Grill not only pays no property taxes, it enjoys a 20-year contract, with two five-year renewal options, and gets free water, natural gas and garbage collection.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration filed a lawsuit seeking to have the deal declared invalid, but a Cook County Judge upheld the deal last year.

A rendering of the revised design for a restaurant slated to open in Maggie Daley Park. | Provided rendering

A rendering of the revised design for a restaurant slated to open in Maggie Daley Park. | Provided rendering