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Northerly Island Concert Capacity Hiked to 30,000: Phish, Buffett Booked

By Ted Cox | March 21, 2013 5:40pm
 The Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island will be reorientated to point southeast into a "great lawn" viewing area — without disturbing the nature habitat to the south.
The Charter One Pavilion on Northerly Island will be reorientated to point southeast into a "great lawn" viewing area — without disturbing the nature habitat to the south.
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CITY HALL — A concert venue at Northerly Island will add expanded seating and a lawn area enabling it to accommodate 30,000 music fans.

The Chicago Plan Commission signed off on a plan to move the stage so it points southeast toward a "great lawn," providing the city skyline as a backdrop. Officials contend that despite the huge expansion of the venue, it would not disturb the nature habitat at the south end of Northerly Island.

The "self-sufficient" rehabilitation, paid for entirely by concert proceeds, will expand the site of the temporary, seasonal venue —  known by its corporate name as the Charter One Pavilion — from 4.78 to 6.9 acres of the 91-acre peninsula. Seating, too, will be expanded, from 8,000 to 8,600, and lawn seating, resembling the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park, will be able to accommodate another 22,000.

However, the entire peninsula to the south of music venue will be off-limits to the public during concerts,  officials said.

Chicago Park District officials said the rehab project should be completed June 1 and that Phish and Jimmy Buffett had already been booked for shows that month by the concert promoter Live Nation. Barenaked Ladies and the Ben Folds Five will also play a show in July.

The measure, which was only made public earlier this week, passed unanimously and received no opposition from nature lovers at the Thursday meeting. Bob O'Neill, of the Grant Park Conservancy Advisory Council, cheered how concert proceeds are actually providing matching funds for development of a nature habitat at Northerly Island under the guidance of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Northerly Island, he said, "is actually pretty natural right now," adding that it should "become an incredible asset to Chicago."

Timothy King, legal counsel for the Chicago Park District, said he was sure that the concert venue and the nature habitat could continue to co-exist even with tens of thousands of fans descending on the island for concerts.

King said the park district had parking "down to a pretty good science" at nearby Soldier Field, home of the Bears. "We've proven that that area can adequately hold that number of parkers," he said.

Relay speakers, much like those found at Pritzker Pavilion, will actually improve acoustics at the venue, according to park district officials. Bike racks will be expanded.  And the venue remains walking distance from the Roosevelt Road L stop serving Chicago Transit Authority rail lines. Bus lines also serve the area.

Pointing the stage southeast, King said, will also avert "inland noise contamination," and the nature habitat to the south will not be open to the public during concerts, so there will be few outside "poaching" on the concerts, which sometimes occurs with Lollapalooza in Grant Park. King did say boats sometimes gather in the lake within earshot, which will still be allowed.

Yet Rachel Goodstein, former president of the Meigs Action Coalition, seized on the opportunity to decry the loss of the Meigs Field airport on the peninsula.

"I'm not trying to turn back time," Goodstein said, but she cited the upcoming 10th anniversary this month of Mayor Richard M. Daley's destruction of Meigs Field. "We left $700 million on the table," she said, when Daley arbitrarily ordered the airport demolished rather than sell it.

That, however, was a done deal long ago, and commissioners cheered the expansion, with Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) calling it "a wonderful plan for this space," and Smita Shah saying it shows that "ecology and art and culture" can co-exist.