National museum for enlisted sailors planned in North Chicago

 
 
Updated 6/8/2016 9:21 PM
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  • This is a rendering of proposed $40 million National Museum of the American Sailor near the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago. Fundraising has begun for the facility

    This is a rendering of proposed $40 million National Museum of the American Sailor near the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago. Fundraising has begun for the facility Courtesy of National Museum of the American Sailor Foundation

After years stuck in neutral, a former industrial site abutting Gate 4 at the Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago is slated for big plans to include a national museum honoring enlisted sailors.

The proposed $40 million National Museum of the American Sailor is intended as an anchor for what is envisioned by the city as a hospitality and entertainment district at the northwest corner of Sheridan Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, though the projects are being pursued separately.

While developers try to attract hotels, a movie theater, restaurants and other businesses for the bulk of the 31 acres donated by the city, a foundation formed for the museum project recently attained state and federal nonprofit status. Fundraising has begun for the facility expected to draw 400,000 visitors each year.

"It's really a renaissance project for the city," said Ronald Lanz, executive director of the National Museum of the American Sailor Foundation. Lanz was the city's former economic development director and consultant for many years and assembled the development team for the project known as Sheridan Crossing.

Great Lakes Naval Station, established more than a century ago, is the only Navy boot camp. About 38,000 men and women go through nine weeks of basic training each year, and nearly 1,000 graduate every week. But the city has not been able to capitalize.

The proposed 40,000-square-foot building would be the "physical and spiritual home of the enlisted sailor" and the only museum dedicated exclusively to that group, according to foundation materials.

As planned, it would include multiple exhibit galleries, a performance auditorium, conference and meeting rooms, a cafe, a gift shop and other facilities. A special gallery inside would house portions of the Navy's 19,000 unique works, including hundreds donated by Abbott Laboratories that have never been on public display, according to Lanz.

The current Great Lakes Naval Museum was founded in the early 1990s to preserve the boot camp's history.

However, a new vision and shift from a regional focus are needed to better reflect the interests of visitors from across the country who attend graduations, according to the foundation.

The focus would be to better incorporate Great Lakes' symbolic role as the first home of naval recruits and make the story relevant to Navy personnel and local, national and international audiences.

The city acquired and demolished the site more than 10 years ago for Sheridan Crossing, but the economic downturn stalled development, according to Deb Waszak, the city's chief of staff.

@dhmickzawislak

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