City Gets $100M Loan to Finance Riverwalk Project

Construction is expected to begin next year and projected to be completed in 2016

The federal government is giving Chicago a $100 million loan to make the idea of an overhauled Chicago Riverwalk a reality.

"This is really important because it takes this really great natural resource, this great river, and really uses it more than it's every been used before for the people," U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Thursday at a press event at 300 N. LaSalle.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the plan to develop six blocks of the riverfront, from State Street west to the three river branches, the city's "next recreational frontier."

"It's no longer just a dream or a drawing on a board or a potential. It's now becoming a reality," he said.

The federal loan is being provided by the newly-expanded Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein were scant on details as to how the 35-year loan, currently at 3.1 percent, would be repaid. Existing tour boat fees would be a large portion of the equation, they said, adding that expanded retail opportunities, sponsorships and a "limited" and "tasteful" amount of advertising would be factored in later.

LaHood said he had no concerns about the city's ability to repay the loan.

"The financial stability of this project is solid," he said. "Part of our criteria is we have outside financial people look at this, and it's also reviewed by two independent panels within DOT to make sure that everything adds up."

Conceptual plans for the project were announced in October, with each block encompassing a theme. The so-called Marina from State to Dearborn, for example, would be designed for restaurant space and public seating, while the Cove from Dearborn to Clark could include kayak rental retail space and the Swimming Hole from LaSalle to Wells would provide recreational space.

Floating gardens, fishing piers and an iconic bridge are among design plans Emanuel wants to execute. 

Talk of revitalizing the riverfront has been years in the making. Last April Illinois committed $10 million to cleaning the river's high volume of wastewater from sewage treatment plants. Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Emanuel said they hope the river someday can be used for fishing and swimming, and river advocates said the riverwalk's expansion is the next step.

"I think we just got to the point where the water's clean enough, the people are ready for this. And 20 years ago there was sewage in the water and people were a little afraid of the river," said Margaret Frisbie with the group Friends of the Chicago River. "Now we're excited and we want it. I think the time has come."

Construction is expected to begin next year and projected to be completed in 2016.

Oct. 2012: Chicago Unveils Riverwalk Expansion Plans
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