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A closer look at Chicago’s newly completed ‘Riverwalk East’ improvements

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The city is putting the finishing touches on the $12 million project

Photos by Jay Koziarz/Curbed Chicago

On Monday, the City of Chicago announced the completion of the $12 million revamp of the easternmost segment of the Chicago Riverwalk, located between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive. A stroll through the new “Riverwalk East,” however, reveals that work on several aspects of the project is still ongoing.

Basic elements such as new planters, wood benches, widened concrete pathways, and ticketing booths for river cruises are up in place, but much of the landscaping is incomplete or missing—likely a result Chicago’s especially cold and damp spring. Temporary fencing lines the river’s edge, and the promised LED light fixtures have yet to show up.

Chicagoans can expect the rest of the landscaping, missing lamp poles, and other finishing touches to arrive in the coming weeks, according to the city’s Department of Fleet and Facility Management, the entity that manages the Chicago Riverwalk.

Other upcoming elements include new pedestrian access points at Columbus Plaza and Field Drive and the return of climbable “PlayCubes” for children. A 117-foot-tall sculptural weather station topped by wind vanes and anemometers is expected to arrive in fall 2020.

As the weather improves, the area’s three private vendors will continue to work on improvement projects of their own. When complete later this year, The Northman, Island Party Hut, and Urban Kayaks will offer expanded seating and dining as well as new amenities including the Riverwalk East’s first public restrooms.

One part of the eastern Riverwalk revamp that appears nearly 100 percent complete is a new crowd-funded memorial dedicated to the Wisconsin-built submarines that passed through the Chicago River on their way to the Pacific Ocean during World War II. A dedication ceremony is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 18.

Ignoring any lingering punch-list items, the reopening of the Riverwalk East is welcome news for the pedestrians and cyclists that rely on the path as a useful link between downtown and the Chicago Lakefront Trail. The Chicago Riverwalk between Michigan and Wabash avenues, however, will remain closed until a new vendor marketplace opens in late June.

While many new planters and trees are in place, several portions of the Riverwalks East are still under construction.
The location of missing light fixtures are marked by cones. The city says they were delayed by a supplier issue.
Installed in 2015, this ten-foot-tall Allium sculpture by Carolyn Ottmers will soon be surrounded by native flowers by the same name. The temporary fencing will also be removed.
The Northman will bring a revamped beer garden and new public restrooms to the Riverwalk when it reopens later in the season.
Island Party Hut is expanding its pop-up shipping container shop to a new ground-up structure.
Chicagoans can soak up river views from these Adirondack chairs and boulders next to the Lake Shore Drive Bridge.
New benches boost the Riverwalk’s total public seating by more than 500.
The new WWII submarine monument features a watertight door salvaged from the USS Trout.