Navy Pier's Proposed $155 Million Revamp

Chicago Business: A new $155-million plan to revamp Navy Pier calls for adding a boutique hotel at the pier's east end and revitalizing the facility's retail area.

The plan also includes potential expansion of the Chicago Children's Museum and of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater by adding a 950-seat house, more than doubling the theater's current capacity.

Navy Pier managers are still working out deals with the museum and the theater.

Board members of Navy Pier Inc., the non-profit entity that will take over Navy Pier operations Friday, unveiled the plan Thursday, along with executives from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which currently owns and operates the pier.

In July, the pier board will begin an international competition — with prize money — seeking top design talent. The team, to include architects, landscape architects and urban designers, will be finalized in six months, according to Navy Pier General Manager Marilynn Gardner.

Crystal Garden, the 1-acre indoor palm court located in the Family Pavilion area, will receive a major makeover to become a child-friendly indoor park. The pier's lighting scheme will be enhanced, the Ferris wheel will be improved, public art and “interactive water features” like fountains will be added and the East End Park, which juts out into the water, will be enhanced to become a “world-class park,” according to Steve Haemmerle, executive-vice president of Navy Pier Inc.

Pier executives said they hope to double the Children's Museum to 100,000 square feet, but the nearby presence of the IMAX theater complicates expansion. The new Navy Pier plan focuses on improving nightlife and non-summer attractions to draw more visitors to the state's busiest tourist attraction. Currently, 6 million of the 8.7 million annual visitors come between May and October.

The plan aims to create “a more sophisticated, more adult nighttime persona” for the pier, possibly including “four or five new white-tablecloth restaurants” and a jazz club, said Jim Reilly, trustee of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

One amenity that won't be added, Mr. Reilly says, is a casino. "A casino is just totally inconsistent with the character of the pier," he said, calling the idea "a non-starter" and claiming it would not fit well with Navy Pier's atmosphere.

Executives stressed that this plan is “aspirational” and financial figures and details are subject to change. No hotel developer has yet been identified, nor have specific new restaurants or retail operations been determined.

The $155-million investment involves public funds and does not include private investment, including the money that would come from the Children's Museum and the Shakespeare Theater, as well as from commercial partners like a hotel developer. MPEA will contribute $50 million.

Mr. Reilly said MPEA hopes to increase its contribution beyond $50 million “but it won't be anywhere near” the total estimated cost. Pier executives said the MPEA contribution will be augmented by aggressive fundraising and selling naming rights to various public spaces.

Remarking on 2010's 8 million visitors, Mr. Reilly said, “That's more than all the sports teams combined, and look at all the sponsorship money they get.” Private sponsorship at the pier is “an untapped market,” he said.

The new 13-member Navy Pier board, helmed by retired Boeing Co. executive Sarah Nava Garvey, was established in January, when the MPEA split operations of the pier and McCormick Place, which it also runs. The MPEA announced it will lease the pier at no cost to Navy Pier Inc. The lease is slated to run for 15 years, with renewal options.

Also July 1, McCormick Place will transition to private management. Philadelphia-based facility operator SMG Management Inc., which also operates Soldier Field, will take over management duties from MPEA.

The transition is part of a state-mandated overhaul of the convention business that aims to make Chicago more competitive with rival convention destinations such as Orlando and Las Vegas.

The new framework is also a response to an Urban Land Institute report last fall that recommended Navy Pier reconfigure its leadership structure and create a new strategic plan that would modernize and reinvigorate the Pier.


Post a Comment