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New outdoor performance venues open at Navy Pier’s Polk Bros. Park

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The so-called ‘performance lawns’ will debut with a screening of Sharknado

Navy Pier

Navy Pier will officially cut the ribbon on a pair of newly completed performance venues tonight. Occupying land that was once the Pier’s underused South Dock, the outdoor stages are part of Polk Bros. Park that serves as Navy Pier’s 13-acre “front lawn.” The renovated park space added new play fountains last summer as well as a number of improvements to make the area both more attractive and pedestrian-friendly.

Designed by High Line architecture firm James Corner Field Operations, the project consists of two performance areas. A 1,700-person waterside venue at the park’s eastern edge is joined by a smaller, west-facing space that can accommodate roughly 750 spectators. A newly-created landscaped hilltop in the middle of the site is designed to optimize views in both directions.

“This was really just an underutilized open space of land, a big, open field,” architect James Corner told the Chicago Tribune. “And yet the view is extraordinary. By tilting the land, sloping it in both directions, you get great, panoramic views of the city skyline. And then the larger portion of the lawn tilts east and overlooks the lake.”

Navy Pier

While the site will be home to a wide variety of free cultural programming including outdoor performances from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, tonight’s event is decidedly more campy: a showing of the 2013 made-for-TV horror flick Sharknado. The screening is the first in a series of water-themed films headed to the Pier this summer in collaboration with the Chicago International Film Festival.

The new performance lawn isn’t the only upgrade on tap for Polk Bros. Park. A planned 4,000-square-foot welcome pavilion tucked under a sloping landscaped berm—similar to the upcoming Maggie Daley Park restaurant—will feature restrooms, a small exhibition space, a cafe, and visitor information. A new charter bus drop-off area with a landscaped "wildflower hill" is also slated for the park’s northern end.

Meanwhile, the eastern end of Navy Pier is preparing to receive some transformative upgrades. An upcoming 240-key hotel development designed by Chicago architecture firm KOO LLC is expected to begin construction in late summer/early fall. Future plans also call for an elevated, horseshoe-shaped scenic walkway at the Pier’s far end.

A rendering of the new welcome pavilion planned for Polk Bros. Park.
Navy Pier