Navy Pier is a 3,300-foot-long (1,010 m) pier on the Chicago shoreline of Lake Michigan. It is located in the Streeterville neighborhood of the Near North Side community area. The Navy Pier currently encompasses more than fifty acres of parks, gardens, shops, restaurants, family attractions and exhibition facilities and is the top leisure destination in the Midwestern United States ("Midwest"), drawing nearly nine million visitors annually. It is one of the most visited attractions in the entire Midwest and is Chicago's number one tourist attraction.
Navy Pier opened to the public on July 15, 1916. Originally known as the "Municipal Pier", the pier was built by Charles Sumner Frost, a nationally known architect, with a design based on the Plan of Chicago (1909) by Daniel Burnham and Edward H. Bennett Its original purpose was to serve as a dock for freights, passenger traffic, and indoor and outdoor recreation; events like expositions and pageants were held there.
In the summer of 1918 the pier was also used as a jail for draft dodgers. In 1927, the pier was renamed Navy Pier to honor the naval veterans who served in World War I.
In 1941, during World War II, the pier became a training center for the U.S. Navy; about 10,000 people worked, trained, and lived there. The pier contained a 2,500-seat theater, gym, 12-chair barber shop, tailor, cobbler shops, soda fountain and a vast kitchen and hospital.
In 1946, as the Navy was winding down from its mission, the University of Illinois at Chicago held classes at the pier. Though the maximum capacity was exceeded the school outgrew the pier and the university relocated to Circle Campus.
After the university left, the Navy Pier became underutilized.
In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened and increased commercial shipping activity at the pier for a short time, though business died down and left for more modern facilities at Lake Calumet.
In 1976 the East End buildings were renovated and for a brief period the pier was alive again, home to summer events like ChicagoFest. But maintenance was not done and the pier went into decline.
In 1989, the City of Chicago had the Urban Land Institute (ULI) reimagine uses for the pier. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) was created; its responsibility was to manage and operate Navy Pier as well as McCormick Place. The MPEA undertook the redevelopment, incorporating some of ULI's recommendations.
In 1995, Navy Pier was redesigned and introduced to the public as a mixed-use venue incorporating retail, dining, entertainment, and cultural spaces.
Starting in 2014, the redevelopment plan called The Centennial Vision was implemented. The purpose of this plan is to fulfill the mission to keep Navy Pier as a world-class public space and to renovate the pier so it will have more evening and year-round entertainment and more compelling landscape and design features. The Centennial Vision was completed in summer 2016. The Polk Family Foundation (founded by Sol Polk) donated $20 million to the redevelopment effort; the park and fountain at the entrance to the pier was named the Polk Brothers Park and Fountain.
Navy Pier attractions include sightseeing tours from companies such as Seadog Ventures, Shoreline Sightseeing cruises and Water Taxi service, and the tall ship "Windy". There are also dinner cruises by Entertainment Cruises on their ships the Spirit of Chicago, Odyssey II, and Mystic Blue. The pier has fireworks on Wednesday and Saturday nights during the summer and Saturday nights during the fall.
Navy Pier hosts the Fifth Third Bank Winter Wonderfest from December through January. There is an indoor ice skating rink as well as shopping and dining in Festival Hall.
There are many outdoor attractions at the Navy Pier Park, such as the Pepsi Wave Swinger, Light Tower Ride, Remote Control Boats and the Carousel.
Amazing Chicago's Funhouse Maze is on the pier. It is a self-paced, full sensory maze experience where a person navigates their way through 4,000 square feet of tunnels and mazes.
Crystal Gardens is a one-acre, botanical garden inside the pier. It is a six-story glass atrium with a 50-foot arched ceiling. Many events are held here.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a theater that recreates Shakespeare's productions. The Pier also has an IMAX theater.
There is lots of outdoor art such as the anchor from the naval vessel USS Chicago (CA-136/CG-11), which is on display at the far end. Other art includes a statue of actor Bob Newhart on a couch as on The Bob Newhart Show, the Captain On The Helm statue dedicated to maritime captains, and the Crack the Whip sculpture of eight children at play holding hands by J. Seward Johnson Jr.
The Ferris wheel was retired on September 27, 2015. A new model was selected and purchased—the DW60—from Dutch Wheels, the Netherlands-based company that built the pier's former wheel. The state-of-the-art DW60 is the first and only one of its kind in the U.S. with similar wheels currently in operation in Hong Kong and Baku, Azerbaijan. Significant features include two-sided cars that allow for easy loading and unloading, a fortified structure to withstand winds of 115 miles per hour, and safety glass capable of weathering intense storms. The new model was unveiled on May 27, 2016.
Plans for renovation
Efforts to update Navy Pier for the twenty-first century began, on January 13, 2006, when the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority released a proposal for a major renovation of the Pier, which including a monorail, a 260-foot (79 m) spokeless Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, floating hotel, and a water park with a Great Lakes theme. The plan would have included nearly double the current parking and a replacement theater with a greater capacity. At the time of the announcement, a price tag of $2 billion was announced.
Following the reorganization of the agency that runs Navy Pier and McCormick Place, a new study was commissioned to reinvigorate the upgrade process. The new study, by the Urban Land Institute, was released on November 11, 2010, and recommended a more modest set of enhancements aimed at retaining the Pier's role as a public space, rather than turning it into a theme park. Suggested elements include a concert venue, an enlarged Chicago Shakespeare Theater space, new restaurants, a renovated commercial area around the Pier's entrance, and additional park-like features to bring people closer to the lake. More grandiose possibilities, including the enlarged Ferris wheel and a hotel, are mentioned as more remote possibilities.
In March 2012, a competition led to selection of a design concept presented by a team led by James Corner of James Corner Field Operations that focuses on the Pier's role as a waterfront promenade. In 2013 the Authority announced plans to carry out the first elements of a streamlined version of that concept, with reworked streetscape and a wider pedestrian space, moving tour-boat moorings to improve the view from a new central stairway centered on the Ferris wheel. Work began during the winter of 2013–2014, with completion expected by Summer 2015.
A new Ferris wheel for the pier was announced on June 23, 2015. It will be 196 feet (60 m) tall, 46 feet (14 m) taller than its predecessor. Rides will be twelve minutes instead of seven and feature three revolutions. The new wheel has brighter lights and opened in May 2016.
The first phase of redevelopment, completed in 2016, included the redesign of the Pier's public spaces, known as Pierscape, and improvements to the interior of the Family Pavilion and South Arcade.
Phase I projects included the transformation of South Dock into a more engaging, greener space, conversion of the South Arcade indoor walkway into a Chicago-themed food experience and creation of a lighted water fountain/ice skating rink in Polk Bros Park.
In November 2016, Navy Pier, Inc. proudly announced Phase I development had achieved Gold certification under the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) rating system, the first project to earn this level of certification under SITES v2. Phase 1's Gold certification demonstrates NPI's undeniable commitment to the environment through expanded green spaces, improved pedestrian access, energy efficiency, innovative storm water management, use of recycled local materials and much more.
Phase II projects include the development of a seven-story, 240-room hotel, adjacent to the south side of Festival Hall; marquee additions to the East End Plaza, including a proposed arched, elevated overlook walkway and reflective water feature; a Welcome Pavilion in Polk Bros Park with 4,000 square feet for guest services and programmatic space; a seasonal ice rink within the footprint of the Polk Bros Park's fountain and plaza; and a short-term, north-side boat docking facility for use by recreational boaters seasonally.
In popular culture
The halls were used to represent Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the 1986 movie The Color of Money for the 9-Ball Championship.
In the film Divergent, the Pier and Ferris wheel are shown abandoned and decayed in a future Chicago, and it is stated that they were abandoned by choice a long time before. The Dauntless members play capture the flag in the park. Tris and Four climb the Ferris wheel to spot the opposing team. In the book, the opposing team hides the flag in a park near Navy Pier, while in the film version, the flag is hidden in a tower of the Chicago Children's Museum building.
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