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Navy Pier Officially Reveals Proposed Hotel, Lake Michigan Overlook

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The plans are the latest phase of the pier’s multi-year Centennial Vision

Navy Pier Community Presentation All images courtesy of Navy Pier

Last night, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) hosted a public meeting allowing representatives of Navy Pier to unveil the next phase of the ongoing transformation underway at the state’s most popular tourist destination. While the ambitious, multi-phase Centennial Vision has already seen the implementation of new landscaping, hardscaping, dining options, and an upsized Ferris wheel since work began in 2014, the latest plans call for a new welcome pavilion and a completely revamped eastern end — including a 240-key hotel and rooftop terrace.

Though adding a hospitality component to the pier was long touted as a future goal, news surfaced in April that the proposal was actively moving forward. Designed by KOO Architects, the hotel will be spread over three bracket-shaped bays situated immediately south of festival hall. The new seven-story structure will be comprised of five floors of guest rooms above the two levels of preexisting space that will be reactivated into new dining and entertainment amenities. A separate rooftop bar and restaurant will be constructed on top of the Shelter Building which bridges the Grand Ballroom and Festival Hall.

Private developer/operator First Hospitality Group is partnering with Navy Pier to amend the pier’s Planned Development (PD) terms to allow hotel use. The group hopes to go before the Chicago Plan Commission in August and begin work as soon as possible, according to Ted Novak, attorney for the Pier. Assuming approvals go smoothly, Novak expects the rooftop venue to open in 2017 with the hotel accepting its first guests in 2018.

The aforementioned hotel isn’t the only change coming to the pier’s eastern terminus. Navy Pier Executive Vice President Steve Haemmerle revealed plans for a semi-circular, gently sloping "Lake Overlook" walkway that would rise over a new shallow reflecting pool dubbed the "Lake Mirror." In addition to new landscaping, a new "Lake Terrace" would step down at the pier’s eastern end, allowing visitors to get closer to the water. The plans were designed by James Corner Field Operations — the firm behind the High Line in New York.

Field Operations also penned the current and upcoming improvements to Polk Brothers Park which serves as Navy Pier’s western gateway. The park recently opened a new play fountain while a lake-facing performance lawn with an outdoor stage and western-facing "City Steps" is currently under construction at the park’s southern end.

Future plans call for a new 4,000-square-foot welcome pavilion to be tucked under a sloping landscaped berm — not dissimilar to the upcoming Maggie Daley Park restaurant — and will feature restrooms, a small exhibition space, a cafe, and visitor information. Meanwhile a new charter bus drop-off area with a landscaped "wildflower hill" is slated for the norther portion of Polk Bros.

The presentation also touched on improvements to the interior of Navy Pier. The pier is working with Gensler to phase-out the tired, 1980s "festival market" aesthetic in favor of a cleaner, more industrial look. This new scheme can already been seen in a portion of the Navy Pier’s concession area. Plans for new short-term boat docking on the northern side of the pier and improvements to pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile traffic management were presented as well.

With the exception of the privately financed hotel, the recently unveiled concept are dependent on funding and have set no timelines for completion. Similar to the recently-christened Polk Brothers Park, the pier is seeking private partners. "Whoever helps with that funding obviously may have a voice in what they’d like to see and we may have to tweak the plans," explained Brian Murphy, Chief Operating Officer at Navy Pier. "Right now its concept design but things can change."


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