Lawmakers eye national park status for Pullman

Published: Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 7:19 p.m. CDT

CHICAGO – Members of Illinois' congressional delegation announced Friday they will sponsor legislation that would create a national park in Chicago's historic Pullman neighborhood.

U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, along with U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, announced their plans in one of the few modern buildings in the neighborhood on Chicago's South Side. Kirk and Durbin said they plan to introduce legislation to Congress next week. Pullman is part of Kelly's congressional district.

Kirk, a Republican, said he could see a Pullman National Park as an economic magnet for the city that would create 300 jobs and attract tourists and their dollars to the community.

"Chicago already has a 75 percent occupancy rate for its hotels," he said. "We could fill some of those hotel rooms by tourist trade here."

Industrialist George Pullman founded what was then a separate town in 1880. It was known for manufacturing Pullman Palace Sleeper Cars, which were considered the most luxurious railcar for almost a century. The neighborhood also was the birthplace of the African-American labor movement. Disgruntled Pullman porters, who served sleeping car passengers, organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters union in the 1920s.

Under the bill, the National Park Service would own the Pullman Factory Complex and the land on which it sits, with the option of acquiring additional property or assets.

Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, said elevating Pullman to national park status will provide preservation and conservation opportunities for the site, increase tourism and promote job creation.

Pullman is already designated a national historical landmark district, a state landmark and a city landmark.

The National Parks Conservation Association said an urban national park in Chicago would "bring new stories to the National Park System." And the National Trust for Historic Preservation called the site "one of America's most significant historic places."

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