Study outlines plans to revamp Navy Pier

November 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

McPier, the state-city agency that runs Navy Pier, commissioned a study by the Urban Land Institute to come up with ideas to update the site.

The suggested changes include more attractions for children, overhauling the food areas and making the Ferris wheel bigger.

When Navy Pier was developed into a major tourist attraction in 1995 the plan was to freshen up the pier after ten years. But the lack of funds delayed those plans.

Now, with some new money in the pipeline, overhauling parts of the pier is a real reality, although the public shouldn't expect a big theme park to be part of its future.

Navy Pier is the most visited tourist site in the state of Illinois with eight million visitors every year. On Wednesday, ABC 7 found plenty of camera-ready tourists and locals.

"I think it is a lot of fun, I come here a couple times a year," said Maureen O'Donnell, Navy Pier visitor.

"I think it is fabulous. I had the opportunity to have a mother/daughter day and this is where we came today," said Diana Wende, Navy Pier visitor.

With the compliments, however, come complaints.

"Very expensive. I think I spent $60 in the last half hour," said O'Donnell.

"It's kind of like being in an airport with the kiosks, the key chains and all that," said Wende.

Updating the family pavilion and making Navy Pier more affordable are two priorities for plans to upgrade the pier. In recent years, the lack of money has stalled plans to freshen up the tourist site, but the sale of bonds to restructure debt has freed up some money.

"We will have 40 or 45, maybe $50 million worth of money to devote to Navy Pier. Now, that won't do everything we might want to do, but it will get us started," said McPier trustee Jim Reilly who has overseen a restructuring of the agency.

Instead of going all commercial, Reilly says the study indicates a mix is the key.

"Generally, we want to maintain a balance, and maybe reenforce the balance, between public uses, cultural uses and commercial uses," said Reilly.

The possibilities include a big new children's attraction to replace the Children's Museum when it exits, expanding the Shakespeare Theatre, adding a small concert venue, more restaurants and greenery- even a boutique hotel is an idea being tossed around.

"The pier has a great daytime persona, but you don't necessarily think of it as a place to go enjoy some nightlife in the evening," Reilly said.

He says McPier will come up with a strategic plan by January to revamp Navy Pier. The goal is to make all the improvements by 2016, which is the 100th anniversary of the pier. Another idea Reilly is hoping will become reality is operating Navy Pier as a private non-profit similar to Lincoln Park Zoo or the Museum of Science and Industry.

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