Jul
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Ch-ch-ch-changes: Navy Pier’s Future Includes Hotel, People-Focused Design

July 11, 2014

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At a public presentation Tuesday evening organized by the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) and Navy Pier Inc., updated plans were shown for the massive renovation project already underway to transform Navy Pier from the “carnival aesthetic” we’ve known for years to what the project’s chief zoning attorney Theodore Novak hopes will become a world-class attraction focused more on people than on corporate interests. The various speakers weren’t shy about the current shortcomings of the Pier as it was redesigned in 1995 and exists today; it’s too hard to get to, there’s too much vehicle traffic near the entrance, there’s not enough parking, there’s not much to draw visitors to the eastern end, the interior feels like a shopping mall, Pier Park feels like a carnival, the food options don’t reflect Chicago’s culinary strengths. At times it felt like a Friars Club roast of the pier itself, but if these problems aren’t acknowledged there’s little hope of correcting them.

Despite the list of flaws that locals are happy to throw at you, Navy Pier remains the number one tourism destination in Illinois, and in 2016 the pier itself will be celebrating its 100th birthday. In light of that, the overseers of Navy Pier are aligning their renovations to a new framework they’ve created called their Centennial Vision. Those who have been following the Navy Pier developments closely wouldn’t have heard much new information at the presentation, but it was the first time in quite a while that the plans were presented publicly in the context of a unified vision.

Parking and traffic consultants from Desman Associates and TADi spoke to concerns with getting to and parking at the pier. Traffic patterns will be modified through Gateway Park to simplify entrance and egress, eliminating the confusing pedestrian situation where you can be nearly run over by the same vehicle multiple times as they loop through the current circular driveway. To further alleviate congestion, two offsite parking facilities are being considered, one at Grand and State and another on South Water, with free shuttle busses between them and the pier. The team is also working with CDOT to experiment with creating a reversible lane of traffic on Grand Avenue to add an extra lane in either direction to accommodate large crowds either coming or going.

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The outside promenade of the pier itself, now dubbed the Pierscape, is receiving the largest facelift, with a much larger focus on people. Sight lines are cleared of clutter, several pocket parks and interactive seating areas are added, and several of the amenities currently clustered near the pier’s entrance are pushed further east to create more space and help draw visitors deeper into the pier. The dining area inside will be expanded outward with a large glass “wave wall” to create a kind of atrium feel, and also allow for a much more inviting and gentle stairway leading from the main south dock promenade up to Pier Park where the pier’s iconic ferris wheel sits, inviting visitors upstairs rather than challenging them to find their way up.

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Seemingly the only really new information however were the plans to add a boutique hotel to Navy Pier. By repurposing two floors of the underused convention and pre-function space at the eastern end of the pier, they believe that between 150 and 225 hotel rooms can be added, all with south-facing views of the harbor and skyline, and with the hotel’s lobby in the pier’s historic Terminal Building. The new construction required to pull this off wouldn’t be taller than the existing pier structures and therefore wouldn’t alter the visual footprint of the landmarked buildings.

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The hotel option is still being investigated with a development partner before actively pursuing deals with hotel operators. The pier management feels that adding a boutique style hotel to the pier would introduce a newer, adult/upscale demographic to the area and help keep the pier populated during the evenings and off-season.

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During the Q&A session at the end of the meeting, one community member asked whether we would be back in 20 years lamenting how outdated the pier feels just as we are with the 1995 design. The response from the Navy Pier team was that the 1995 design was pulled together from scratch with a lot of commercial money, and therefore had a very commercial-centric design approach. This time around, the approach is more people-centric, with a huge emphasis on making the pier both accessible and enjoyable for people, not corporate sponsors or anchor restaurants. In fact, all $115 million for the first phase of the project, which includes the entire Pierscape, is already paid for from TIF and other grants, and as a non-profit entity future phases will be open to philanthropic donation.

·Previous Navy Pier coverage [Curbed Chicago]

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