Navy Pier remake would add urban park elements

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 10:04 a.m. CDT

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(MCT) CHICAGO — Navy Pier, the highly commercialized tourist attraction jutting into Lake Michigan, will take on a more park-like feel under the first phase of redevelopment plans to be formally announced Friday morning.

The initial remake does not include some of the more dramatic elements floated by the design team selected last March, such a swimming pool with a sand beach, due to cost constraints.

But it includes an array of upgrades aimed at making the state's most visited tourist attraction a place where visitors can splash in an interactive fountain that transforms to a skating rink in winter, stroll along a more heavily planted promenade that edges closer to the lake and rest on an undulating stairway that has unobstructed views of the lake and skyline.

The grand stairway and accompanying Wave Wall will face south, "inviting people to sit and face the sun and look out," said landscape architect James Corner, who leads the design team selected in an international competition last year. "It will be like the Spanish Steps in Rome."

Tour boat parking along the South Dock promenade will be rearranged to allow for clear views.

Corner is based in New York, where he is known for designing the High Line park that transformed an elevated rail line into a popular public park on the West Side. 

The interior retail area will be de-cluttered and given a more open, contemporary feel, and the adjoining food court area will be redone as a Chicago-themed specialty food and restaurant marketplace.  The Chicago office of architecture firm Gensler worked on the redesign of the interior spaces and coordinated the overall redesign.

The project will be funded by $115 million in public money, which is nearly double what was originally anticipated for this phase. There is no funding from corporate sponsorships or philanthropic donations at this point, as had been discussed at the onset. Navy Pier Inc., the not-for-profit that has managed the 3,000-foot icon since 2011, hopes to attract such participation in the second phase.

The revamp funding will come from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority's bond fund, which is supported by hotel tax revenue. The authority owns the pier and McCormick Place.

Navy Pier Inc. expects private investment to coincide with the public project,  with an expansion of the Chicago Children's Museum and the addition of more restaurants, with hopes that the latter will boost visitation during the evening hours. The Children's Museum is expected to invest about $26 million, and restaurant developers are anticipated to invest $35 million.

The redevelopment is expected to be completed in time for the 2015 summer season, just ahead of the pier's 100th anniversary in 2016. The move to the second phase will be dependent on availability of private, commercial, corporate and philanthropic funding, the organization said, and could bring overall investment to $278 million.

The Navy Pier remake is being rolled out this week along with other tourism-related projects, including a proposed multi-use arena at McCormick Place that would serve as the home of the DePaul Blue Demons basketball team and additional hotels and restaurants near the convention center.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is presenting the projects under the umbrella label, "Elevate Chicago," and is promoting them as a major economic engine for Chicago.     

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©2013 the Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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