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Chicago Architecture Center taps Land Bank chief as new CEO

Gorski wants to start Dec. 2 at the helm of an organization whose mission is to promote Chicago as a center of architectural innovation and education and is well-known for running its “Chicago’s First Lady” architecture boat tours along the Chicago River that typically serve more than 700,000 patrons each year . The nonprofit, formerly known as the Chicago Architecture Foundation, also operates a 20,000-square-foot CAC museum that opened along Wacker Drive in 2018.

Gorski, 53, called the new job a “culmination of everything that I’ve worked towards in my career” with priorities of the CAC including historic preservation, studying the reuse of buildings and urban design, and running educational programming about design for students and communities.

“I loved the work I was doing at the Land Bank, and I so believe in the mission and would be grateful if I could still participate in some way, but this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Gorski said.

Gorski previously spent more than two decades in the city’s Department of Planning and Development, where she helped shepherd city approvals for the renovation of Wrigley Field, the creation of the Fulton Market Innovation District, and early plans for the Obama Presidential Center and megaprojects Lincoln Yards and The 78. She left the department in 2020 for a role as director of design and planning for the University of Illinois Chicago, then moved to the Cook County Land Bank Authority in August 2021, overseeing the agency meant to give new life to tax- delinquent houses.

A Pittsburgh native and Penn State University graduate who earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of Illinois, Gorski said her goals for the CAC—beyond maintaining its architecture tours as a main source of revenue—include promoting “equity and diversity in the city ” by fostering more public discourse in underserved communities about urban planning concepts for affordable housing, environmental issues and the rampant development of industrial properties, among other topics.

“I see the CAC as a forum to have those debates and (to) provide tools for people in communities to understand this work and how they can advocate for themselves,” she said.

Fundraising will also be a chief priority for the nonprofit as Gorski seeks to support that mission. The CAC reported $21.2 million in revenue in 2019, according to a tax filing. That number was decimated by COVID-19 to just $5.6 million in 2020 as its boat tours were shut down.

CAC Board Chair Ann Thompson, who serves as executive vice president of architecture and design at developer Related Midwest, said in a statement that Gorski “shares our mission to inspire people to discover why design matters, and we are confident that she will further our vision of a world in which design is the engine that powers the growth of vibrant, equitable urban communities.”

During her short tenure leading the Land Bank, Gorski helped guide forward a plan to redevelop the Washington Park National Bank building in Woodlawn, the extension of the CTA’s Red Line and the redevelopment of the Land Bank’s 1,000th home. The agency’s primary mission is to acquire distressed residential properties and clear away tax liens and other debt before selling them to developers. The homes are then rehabbed and ideally sold, restoring their property tax value to the county.

Cook County Board Commissioner and Land Bank Board Chair Bridget Gainer praised Gorski for her work on ambitious projects over the past year and for strengthening the authority’s relationship with City of Chicago officials.

“She has a huge heart for the (Land Bank) mission,” Gainer said, adding that she expects to find projects on which CAC and the Land Bank will collaborate. “There’s going to be a lot for us to do together.”

Gainer said the Land Bank Board is now beginning a search for Gorski’s replacement.

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