State and Federal Authorities Investigate Alleged Cover-Up in Pullman National Monument Artist Housing Development

Pullman Artspace Lofts
Proposed Pullman Artspace Lofts Source: www.artspace.org

Preservation group claims state officials hid developer’s application for federal financing to help it circumvent federal historic preservation laws.

Chicago, Ill.–(ENEWSPF)–May 5, 2017 – The Illinois Attorney General’s Office along with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and National Trust for Historic Preservation have begun an inquiry into allegations that officials of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) and Illinois Housing Development Authority (IHDA) colluded with a private developer to help it evade a historic review required by Section 106 of the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The developer, Pullman Artspace, LLC, has proposed to rehabilitate two historic buildings and construct a 26-unit contemporary infill apartment building between them on a site it describes as “vacant land.” The Pullman Artspace Lofts project which is to be located within the boundaries of both the Pullman National Monument and the Pullman National Historic Landmark District on Chicago’s far South Side has been a source of controversy.

For over a year, a Pullman-based historic preservation group, the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society (PNMPS) and its attorney Thomas J. Ramsdell have warned state and federal agencies that Pullman Artspace Lofts will destroy the surviving foundation and related archaeological remains of a Pullman tenement “block house” built in 1880 located upon the project site.

Tenement “B” was the center building of a unified three-building complex that once housed some of the Pullman Palace Car Company’s lowest paid workers. This complex, and Tenement “B” specifically, has documented historical associations with Illinois Governor John Peter Altgeld as well as the Strike of 1894 which led to the creation of a national Labor Day holiday.

“This site and the historic resources located upon these lands are vital to fulfilling the legislated purposes for which President Obama established the Pullman National Monument—namely ‘to preserve the historic resources,’ but this project stands ready to destroy these resources and to degrade Pullman’s beauty and historic authenticity,” said Mark Cassello, President of PNMPS.

On March 27, 2017, the PNMPS filed a complaint with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan regarding the apparent cover-up of the developer’s application for federal financing by officials of the IHPA and the IHDA. The complaint—referencing over 200-pages of substantiating exhibits—alleges that officials of the IHPA and the IHDA concealed the “true nature and extent of the project’s federal funding so as to preclude participation and oversight by the responsible Federal agencies and the public.”

“If taxpayer dollars are going to be spent on development within the boundaries of a National Monument, at the very least local, state and federal authorities must undertake the review of such private, profit-driven development on what is literally a national treasure, as required by law. That has not happened in Pullman. In point of fact, it appears the developer is purposely trying to evade such review, and we find it disturbing that governmental officials may be complicit in such obfuscation,” stated attorney Thomas J. Ramsdell.

On April 6, 2017, Charlene Dwin Vaughn, Assistant Director of the Office of Federal Agency Programs of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation sent a letter to the Superintendent of the Pullman National Monument and the Executive Director of the Illinois Housing Authority and copied to two dozen other state and federal officials noting “inconsistencies in the Federal involvement in this undertaking.”

On April 12, 2017, David Brown, Executive Vice President and Chief Preservation Officer of the National Trust for Historic Preservation stated that their organization “will be reaching out to the ACHP directly” and that they “will follow up” with PNMPS again “as soon as possible.”

“Federal laws describe a review process intended to generate a variety of approaches to minimize harm to these resources, but this process has never been initiated because of the cover-up,” said Cassello.

About the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society: In 1960, Pullman residents reactivated the Pullman Civic Organization to save the town from an urban renewal plan that would have leveled the entire neighborhood and replaced it with light industrial warehouses.

In 2016, Pullman residents formed the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society to protect and preserve the “historic designed landscape” of the Pullman National Monument. Their purpose is to ensure, as a citizens’ advocacy group, full compliance on the part of all governmental units, most particularly the National Park Service, with all applicable laws and regulations governing the preservation of the Pullman National Monument.

The Pullman National Monument Preservation Society is a registered 501(c)3 organization and a registered Charitable Organization within the State of Illinois.

Source: Ramsdell & Associates