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MIHALOPOULOS: Dogged fight to keep riverwalk forever open, clear, free

Jeffrey Graubart walks his dog Wriggles along the riverwalk Friday afternoon.

Jeffrey Graubart walks his dog Wriggles along the Riverwalk. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

During lunch hour on an unseasonably warm fall Friday, downtown high-rise dweller Jeffrey Graubart and his yellow lab, Wriggles, committed an act of disobedience, hoping to alter the future of Chicago’s growing web of riverside paths.

Graubart, 77, and Wriggles left their 31st-floor condo on Canal Street a bit before noon and walked along the riverfront, strolling south past two new office towers without incident.

OPINION

Things changed abruptly when the duo got to 100 N. Riverside Plaza — the home of Boeing’s corporate offices. At that point, a pair of otherwise bored-looking security guards sprang at their chance to confront Graubart and Wriggles.

Jeffrey Graubart walks his dog, Wriggles, along the riverwalk Friday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“No dogs, sir!” one of the security guards shouted to Graubart as he descended the stairs from street level to the walkway along the south branch of the Chicago River. “This is private property!”

Graubart knows that’s not true, so he and Wriggles kept on going. And public records Graubart recently got from the city also suggest the walkway next to Boeing’s building belongs as much to him or you as it does to the building owner.

Friday’s run-in with the security guards was just the latest for Graubart and Wriggles.

After security guards blocked the two from this stretch of the riverfront path in the spring, Graubart tried again and again to ask what the deal was in a series of messages to officials in Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly.

These inquiries were met largely with indifference and yielded no real explanation, Graubart says. But Graubart — a West Rogers Park native and an entertainment lawyer who splits his time between downtown and California — is savvier than the average guy who gets the City Hall blow-off.

He filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Emanuel administration for documents pertaining to the riverfront swath next to the Boeing building.

Sign at an entrance to riverwalk at 100 N. Riverside Plaza. | Photo by Dan Mihalopoulos

In response to his request, the city gave Graubart some records from the 1980s. A document from 1983 shows that the Metropolitan Sanitary District of Greater Chicago gave the land to the city government.

The grant was made on the condition that the property “shall perpetually be used by said City of Chicago as a sodded and landscaped park,” according to the records given to Graubart.

Five years later, documents show, the city gave the property to a private owner and stipulated that the new owner was required “at its own expense” to keep the area “sodded and landscapped [sic] as a public park.”

Today, the path — which is lined with flowers, benches, grass and tables — is lovely.

But signs at each end of the block say the path between Randolph and Washington Streets is off-limits to dogs and open only from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

A security guard confronts Jeffrey Graubart as he walks his dog, Wriggles, down the steps to the riverwalk Friday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A spokesman for the city’s planning department says, “Access times should align with Park District hours. If there’s a location where the public is being deprived of access during these hours, we will work with the owner or management entity to resolve the issue.”

According to the Chicago Park District website, however, most parks are open every day until 11 p.m. Most of the rest are open until 9 p.m.

And dogs are allowed in parks as long as they are on a leash — as Wriggles was Friday.

The property manager for 100 N. Riverside Plaza didn’t return messages seeking comment, nor did the alderman.

Graubart says the city has made no effort to back him up.

“Almost everywhere else next to the river, there is public access for me to walk with my dog,” Graubart says.

Jeffrey Graubart walks his dog, Wriggles, along the riverwalk Friday afternoon. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

He’s concerned others will try to do the same thing 100 N. Riverside Plaza is doing. Graubart notes that the shimmering new tower at 150 N. Riverside Plaza also has put up a sign warning that dogs aren’t welcome on its riverfront path, though nobody bothered him or Wriggles as they walked there. Workers on Friday caulked between the paving bricks on that fresh part of the path.

The rules are less stringent at the new River Point building, whose riverwalk commands a majestic view of the split between the north and south branches. The posted hours there are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day. Only alcohol and skateboards are forbidden, according to the sign there.

That’s how it should be.

Proximity to work is not the only reason people are paying bigger and bigger money to live downtown.

Everybody — and their dogs — deserves the chance to fully enjoy the riverfront as much as the lakefront. The city should act to make sure it happens.