Heralding what they called "change in the air," the new board of Navy Pier on Thursday approved a plan to renovate the 95-year-old lakefront icon.
The $155 million dollar project formally gets underway next month.
In approving the plan, the new Navy Pier Inc. officially rejected previous proposals which included a much larger Ferris wheel, a skating rink, and in one version, even a water park.
Instead, planners envision a park space with expanded dining and entertainment options.
Negotiations are underway, but not finalized, to expand the Chicago Children’s Museum, ending speculation that the museum might make a controversial move to Daley Bicentennial Park. The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre would be expanded as well.
"Our goal is for Navy Pier to be a year round, world class, leisure destination," said Marilyn Gardner, Navy Pier General Manager. "The intent of this program is to create a nightlife, and a winter time life here."
The first step will be an invitation for developers to submit plans for what is being called "Pierscape," a series of green areas, including a new park which will be located in front of the Grand Ballroom on the Pier’s eastern end. Pier officials said they hope to select a design team within six months.
"This wonderful Chicago icon needs to be refreshed and needs to be renovated," said Sarah Garvey, the chairman of the newly formed Navy Pier Inc. "The Centennial vision reflects our belief that we can create a popular attraction that is also a high quality attraction, such as Millennium Park."
Planners hope to attract a raft of new restaurants and clubs, and envision a 100-room boutique hotel near the existing Festival Hall. The plan also calls for the expansion and renovation of the low-use Crystal Garden space, as well as the addition of new, winter-friendly cabs to the existing Ferris wheel.
"Our plan would envision a lot more white tablecloth restaurants, and maybe a jazz club," said MPEA Trustee James Reilly. "This focuses on keeping that balance between public and private, between cultural and commercial."
That is a thin line. With a conceptual budget of over $150 million, developers said they plan to sell naming rights to many of the new public spaces, including the new park. But they ruled out a new name for the pier itself and insist any talk of a casino on the pier would be a non-starter.
"We're really excited," said Vice-President Steve Haemmerle. "I really believe when we do all of this… it will be absolutely spectacular!"