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Charter One Pavilion to get massive lawn seating

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 11:07 a.m. CST

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(MCT) CHICAGO — The concert pavilion at Northerly Island could expand this summer with new lawn seating that could hold 20,000 people.

Under the proposal by the Chicago Park District, 5.9 acres of land by the Charter One Pavilion may be reconfigured to feature lawn-style seating and additional trees. Plans also include increasing the seasonal venue's fixed seating from 8,000 to 8,600, according to an agenda for the city's Plan Commission.

"No global city in the world has this opportunity to have lawn seating in a nature area out on the water in a vibrant, major downtown area with a world-class skyline as a backdrop," said Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy and Advisory Council.

The Plan Commission is set to meet at 1 p.m. Thursday at City Hall to vote on the $3 million project. If approved, the landscaping project, funded by Live Nation entertainment company, would start in the spring, said Bob Foster, a senior project manager for the Park District.

The Park District anticipates doubling its revenue in ticket sales to $2 million with the increased seating, O'Neill said. That money would support the park's nature programs and may go toward new projects, like building a pedestrian-bicyclist bridge across Burnham Harbor toward the southern end of Northerly Island, he added.

The lawn-seating area would double as recreational space for park patrons and would only be used for two events this summer as Park District officials experiment with the reconfigured space, Foster and O'Neill said.

"It's better to start small and see what happens and how it goes over, especially when it's a new concept," O'Neill said. "Because it's outdoors and it's a park, you have to test it."

As part of the expansion, Park District officials plan to place more speakers in the area to improve sound and construct a temporary fence around the lawn perimeter for the events.

They will not, however, build a new parking structure to accommodate the increase in visitors — instead encouraging concertgoers to bike, take public transit or park at nearby lots like the one at Soldier Field.

This month marks 10 years since then-Mayor Richard M. Daley ordered crews to bulldoze the runway at Meigs Field airport on Northerly Island, paving the way for the 91-acre peninsula to be converted into a nature sanctuary.

Built in 2005, the Charter One Pavilion was originally intended to be a temporary space to fund nature park plans.

Sometime in 2010, the Park District explored expanding the venue to 14,000 seats, but the idea was thrown out after park supporters fought it. They said adding permanent seating would take away too much green space.

The most recent plan improves the natural space while also providing another funding source to enhance park programs, O'Neill said.

"This is a far better compromise," he said. "It's far more conducive to turning the island to a nature center. ... I'm far more excited about this."

Meanwhile, the Park District is renovating about 40 acres of the southern end of the man-made peninsula into a nature habitat with six interdependent ecosystems. Construction is scheduled to end next year.

jmdelgado@tribune.com

ehirst@tribune.com

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©2013 the Chicago Tribune

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