CHICAGO (WLS) -- Navy Pier announced Tuesday that after Labor Day, the iconic tourist attraction will fully shutdown for the remainder of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pier hopes to reopen in spring 2021 but has not announced a firm reopening date.
The closure, first reported by ABC7, comes as the Pier's nonprofit operator faces a $20 million budget shortfall spurred by substantially low visitor turnout.
"If we're seeing 15% attendance during our typically strongest months, we're very concerned for our partner businesses that rely on summer to get them through the year," said Navy Pier President and CEO Marilynn Gardner in an exclusive interview with ABC 7's Jesse Kirsch.
Following the statewide stay-at-home order, Navy Pier reopened June 10. From that day through August 16, Navy Pier said it welcomed about 500,000 visitors. That's significantly down from the roughly four million people who visited over the same stretch last year, according to the Pier.
"This is depressing," remarked Cody Schrock on a visit to Navy Pier from Indianapolis, Monday.
"It's like a ghost town," he added.
"If we're experiencing these numbers during the typically strongest months, what will those winter months look like," asked Gardner of the precarious financial outlook.
Social distancing has hurt restaurants and retail; parking is down too. All are major revenue sources for the Pier.
Additionally, the iconic Centennial Wheel and other amusement rides have been at a standstill since March, bringing in no money when they normally account for nearly a quarter of all Pier revenue.
Event spaces, the Chicago Children's Museum and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater also haven't been bringing in money.
"I know it's the right thing to do. It's hard to comprehend," said Gardner of the decision to fully close the Pier.
That move also impacts more than 70 businesses with coveted Navy Pier storefronts. Among them, Tiny Tavern, whose managing partner Mark Johnson said as long as it's safe, he'd prefer to stay open at limited capacity. But, Johnson supported a possible shutdown ahead of Tuesday's announcement.
"If the Pier is not doing well then none of us are going to succeed," Johnson said.
Gardner said her team will work with all Pier partners on rent relief. She was also asked if temporarily shutting down the Pier could put some partners out of business.
"We're so hopeful that this gives our partners the lifeline to come out on the other side," she said.
The Pier itself is grappling with layoffs and furloughs, even with $2.5 million from the Paycheck Protection Program.
Gardner said more cuts are likely to ensure the People's Pier survives as an economic force and point of pride for Chicagoans.
"Our guests spend $200 million annually, specifically onsite," said Gardner of the business Pier visitors bring to that one attraction alone.
She said among those benefiting are dozens of young people from Chicago's South and West sides who are hired on the Pier each year.
"There are hundreds of artists who perform here on a regular basis. We welcome the community. This is a space to provide accessible arts and cultural programming," added Gardner.
For Tiny Tavern's Johnson, those offerings make Navy Pier an ideal location he wants to see thrive once again.
"You're a host for the city. You're acting as a steward of everything that's great about our city, so we're proud to be in that position," said Johnson.
"The Pier has lived through war. It will live through this pandemic and will come out even stronger on the other side," Gardner said.
Gardner was asked if Navy Pier's decision to temporarily close should serve as a broader warning about economic fallout around the United States.
"Everyone is concerned. This pandemic has been devastating. And what we need is a vaccine. And we need consumers to have a level of confidence instilled in them as a result of having the vaccine...not just for the Pier but for the entire city as well as our country," said Gardner in response.