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Ambitious Tourism Plan Imagines Elevated Gondolas Over the Chicago River

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The privately-funded project hopes to boost tourism and stimulate the local economy

While Chicago recently celebrated a record number of visitors, two of the Windy City’s leading tourism proponents have unveiled an audacious plan to boost that figure even higher with an elevated line of sky-trams that would ride across cables suspended above the Chicago River. Conceived by Laurence Geller, head of Geller Capital Partners, and Broadway in Chicago founder Lou Raizin, the so-called "Skyline" aerial gondola system would be part of the duo’s "New Vision for Tourism in Chicago."

Though Raizin and Geller’s larger plan also features ideas to activate new parts of the city with dynamic lighting elements — including projecting live performances on the riverfront wall of the Civic Opera House — the Skyline is easily the crown jewel of the "New Vision" presentation that broke cover at a City Club event on Tuesday night.

Operating roughly 17 stories above the river, one line of aerial gondolas would run from Navy Pier along the south bank of the main branch while another arm would extend southward along the lakeshore, connecting the Pier to Millennium Park. The combined system could accommodate as many as 3,000 passengers per hour.

Despite an estimated price tag of $250 million, Raizin and Geller claim the project would rely entirely on private funding. According to Crain’s, the pair believe that their project has the financial backing plus the political and public support necessary to be realized. If approved, the duo anticipate a construction timetable of three to four years.

Financial and engineering obstacles aside, the ambitious Skyline project will need to clear a number of city and special interest hurdles to be realized. Chicago seems to have a unique way of making a private gift valued at hundreds of millions of dollars turn into a politicized boondoggle.