As the city solicits bids for vendors for next year and beyond, it's focused on making the revamped Riverwalk a year-round attraction.
"We do want year-round programming down there," said Michelle Woods, project manager for the Department of Fleet and Facility Management, at a City Hall meeting Wednesday for those seeking to claim spots on the Riverwalk.
In the first real year for Riverwalk vendors west of Michigan Avenue, Woods said the city claimed 14 vendors overall, including popular new outlets of city favorites like The Hideout, City Winery and O'Brien's, but they're not guaranteed spots next year. All have expressed interest in returning, however.
"There is a clean slate, a fresh start," Woods told a few dozen potential applicants Wednesday.
She added that the city was looking for food and beverage outlets, retail merchants and cultural and recreational vendors to fill spots along the south bank of the Chicago River.
"We're interested in every proposal," Woods said. "It's a great place to be."
The leases, she added, would run for a year, with the "possibility" for an additional year extension for merchants that invest heavily in their spots or have a liquor license, which typically runs two years.
The Riverwalk completed its second phase running west to LaSalle Street this year, with construction ongoing for a third and final phase running to Lake Street. Woods said the third phase might be completed next year, but not in time to allow more merchants to move in, so next year will again see competition for spots from Columbus Drive west to LaSalle.
The Riverwalk is open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily — although amplified music has to halt at 8:30 p.m. — and Woods insisted the city was out to make it an attraction 365 days a year.
"There will be snow removal," she added.
At the same time, Woods said she understood that some merchants were more seasonal, adding that "at a minimum" they should plan to be open from Memorial Day to Oct. 1.
Proposals are due by noon Dec. 2, a firm deadline Woods compared to "a showdown in the Old West."
After that, an evaluation committee will weigh the proposals and submit recommendations to David Reynolds, commissioner of Fleet and Facility Management, who will make the final selections for the spots. That's expected to come in January, depending on how many proposals the city receives.
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