Navy Pier to expand theater, museum

June 30, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Navy Pier officials unveiled the renovation plan Thursday morning.

With millions of visitors every year, Navy Pier is arguably Chicago's most popular tourist attraction. It will soon get a bit of a facelift to try to make some of its big draws even better.

"The pier is 6 blocks long," said Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) Trustee Jim Reilly. "There is room here for everything."

Called the Centennial Vision, the plan hopes to draw in more adult and year-round crowds to the tourist attraction.

"The intent of this program is to create a nightlife and also to create a more wintertime life here at the pier," said Navy Pier General Manager Marilyn Gardner.

The proposal was approved by board members just a day before the new not-for-profit agency, Navy Pier Incorporated, takes over operations as a part of a state-mandated overhaul of convention business that aims to make Chicago more competitive with other cities.

"We're all very excited to be a part of this, and it's an extension of the Burnham legacy," said Navy Pier Incorporated Board Member Kurt Summers. "It's one of the great assets not only for the city and Cook County, but also the State of Illinois."

"We can focus on fulfilling the pier's mission, which is it's the people's pier, and making it that," said Andrea Zopp of the Chicago Urban League.

Under the revamp, there would be a major expansion of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and the Chicago Children's Museum, all but confirming that officials are abandoning their controversial plans to relocate in Grant Park.

Jennifer Farrington, president and CEO of the Chicago Children's Museum, issued a statement which reads in part: "Chicago Children's Museum is actively pursuing a future home at Navy Pier. There are no other details to share at this time."

42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly was opposed to the move.

"I am excited about that if that is what is going to happen," said Reilly. "I hope that the two parties, Navy Pier and the museum, can work out a mutually beneficial deal."

Officials estimate the entire project will cost $155 million. McPier will toss in $50 million in seed money. The rest will come through private funding.

The renovation will be good news to many of the 8 million people who visit Navy Pier each year.

"It's just a cool place to hang out as a family," said Taylor Blackburn, a visitor to Chicago, who commented on Lake Michigan, boat rides and the many shops around Navy Pier.

The plan also includes a boutique hotel on the pier's east end as well as a better development of green space.

Officials say there are no plans for a gargantuan Ferris wheel, because it would cost too much and take up too much space.

Pier executives said they will conduct a six-month search for design teams to submit ideas for the pier's public areas.

The project is expected to be completed by 2016, the 100th anniversary of Navy Pier.

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