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Hotelier keeps pushing for aerial tramway to Navy Pier

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The ambitious ‘Skyline’ project could be a tourist magnet, but at what cost to the Chicago Riverwalk?

Davis Brody Bond LLP

It’s been two years since a plan to bring elevated gondolas to downtown Chicago was announced and efforts to make such a transportation system a reality are still underway. Though short of official city backing at this stage, the concept is being pitched in a behind-the-scenes effort to gain both political and financial support, according to a recent update from the Chicago Tribune.

Conceived by hotelier Laurence Geller and Broadway in Chicago founder Lou Raizin, the proposed “Chicago Skyline” aerial tram system was the most ambitious aspect of the pair’s “New Vision for Tourism in Chicago.” The plan, which also included light shows on the western facade of the Civic Opera House, made its public debut in 2016 at a City Club of Chicago event.

Seen as a spiritual successor to the Sky Ride attraction of Chicago’s 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair, the Skyline would shadow the expanded Chicago Riverwalk. The system would whisk passengers between Navy Pier and the of intersection Wacker Drive and Lake Street with at least one stop along the way at Columbus Drive. Its suspended pod-like gondolas could accommodate as many as 3,000 passengers per hour.

The Skyline (left) will follow the riverwalk on the southern bank of the Chicago River’s main branch.
Davis Brody Bond

Geller and Raizin believe the Skyline’s estimated $250 million price tag could be covered entirely by private sources. The project would take three to four years to construct, provided non-taxpayer funding and city approvals can be secured.

Despite a claim that the Skyline will attract an additional 1.4 million annual tourists to Chicago, a number of groups expressed their concerns to the Tribune. Nonprofit group Friends of the Chicago River as well as architect Carol Ross Barney shared in the opinion that support pylons would crowd the already tight Chicago Riverwalk and detract from the pedestrian experience.

Furthermore, the attraction could prove a detriment to Chicago’s architectural river tour boat operators. The Skyline system would be in direct competition with tour companies as well as potentially obstruct building views from water level.

The Skyline’s developers have yet to submit a formal plan to the city. If the proposal ever makes it as far as the public comment phase, expect to hear plenty of strong opinions on both sides of the issue.