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PHOTOS: Navy Pier Renovations Would Abandon 'Carnival Aesthetic,' Add Hotel

 Renderings of the two-phase Navy Pier "reinvisioning" plan tied to the attraction's centennial that were presented at a July 8 community meeting.
Navy Pier 'Re-Envisioning'
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STREETERVILLE — Plans for the second phase of Navy Pier's ambitious "re-envisioning" process include a complete overhaul of most of the attraction's exterior features in an effort to bring in bigger crowds year-round.

Plans presented at a community meeting co-sponsored by Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) and the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents Tuesday night fleshed out the entire two-phase overhaul, including renderings depicting a sleek, modern glass-and-steel vision of the pier.

The plans also call for a boutique hotel with as many as 225 rooms, "additional dining and entertainment space" and a multiuse fountain at the main entrance that supports an ice-skating pavilion in the winter.

The hotel would help "take advantage of underutilized space," said Steve Haemmerle, executive vice president of Navy Pier Inc.

Lizzie Schiffman discusses how the plans were received at the community meeting:

"Navy Pier is the No. 1 tourism destination in the state of Illinois," Reilly said before Navy Pier representatives presented renderings of the redesign.

"All this planning and hard work is to make sure it remains the No. 1 tourist destination in the state, and frankly, transitions from a seasonal venue to more of a year-round venue."

The 30-acre pier has 170,000 square feet of exhibition space and 100,000 square feet of retail and dining. Since 2000, it has drawn 8 million to 9 million visitors annually, 70 percent of whom come from the metropolitan Chicago area.

The proposed five-level, glass-walled boutique hotel next to Festival Hall alone would create an additional 54,000 square feet of commercial space. Architect James Corner of James Corner Field Operations said there's sufficient demand from new businesses seeking to open on the pier.

He also said the pier would seek tenants that "better draw an adult demographic. We think we can do better in the evenings and in the off season" with adult crowds, said Corner, an urban design and landscape architect.

Gensler is the project's executive architect.

The redesign would emphasize "getting away from that carnival-like aesthetic and really focusing back on greenery and live planting in a more pleasant, inviting atmosphere, rather than the State Fair," Reilly said, who said he worked closely with the developer on the current plan. "No offense to the pier."

Reilly said there would be no changes to the "skin of the pier itself" — the general profile of the buildings. Residents addressing the panel after Tuesday's meeting said they appreciated that consideration and supported the redesign.

The so-called "re-envisioning" plan comes as Navy Pier's 100th birthday approaches in 2016. It still needs approval from the city.

Funding for second phase of the plan will be sought from private donors in light of Navy Pier Inc.'s recent formation as a nonprofit, said Marilynn Gardner, president and CEO of the 3-year-old Navy Pier advocacy organization.

The first phase of the project — now underway and expected to be completed in 2016 — is a $115 million Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority-funded overhaul of Gateway Park at the pier's western entrance and the entire southern exterior walkway.

Gardner described the authority, known as McPier, as Navy Pier Inc.'s "landlord." It awarded Navy Pier Inc. the initial $60 million for the first phase of the work when it was founded in 2011.

Gardner said she's optimistic about raising money for the project.

"We now have the opportunity to raise philanthropic dollars," Gardner said. "Over the last 18 months, we've been building that framework and developing relationships ... and we think that we have great opportunities ahead of us to create naming rights along the pier. We hope that will stimulate some of the development to phase two."

Construction will overlap with the Navy Pier Flyover project linking the lakefront bike/pedestrian trail to the pier, which is expected to be completed in 2018.