News Column

City Hall looking for team to manage Riverwalk

August 7, 2014

By Hal Dardick, Chicago Tribune



Aug. 07--City Hall is looking for a team to add more than 100,000 square feet of retail space along the city's Riverwalk and generate enough money to help pay off the $99 million federal loan being used to extend the scenic walkway along the Chicago River.

The group of developers, builders, property managers and maybe even advertising pros would oversee not only the six-block section of the Riverwalk that's under construction along the south side of the river between State and Lake streets, but also the existing portion between Michigan Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.

The details are found in recently released, 343-page city bid documents that ask would-be Riverwalk firms to offer their plans by Sept. 30.

"Construction of this new amenity is expected to be substantially completed in 2016," the documents state. "The new build-out will permit a continuous riverside pedestrian trail from Lake Street . . . all the way to Lake Shore Drive and the Lakefront Trail System, including Navy Pier to the east."

The developer would help the city cover some of its loan payments with money from the stores, restaurants, concessions, entertainment facilities and recreational boat docking. In addition, the city likely would try to repay the rest with fees from tour boats, event sponsorships, naming rights and advertising along adjacent streets, according to the bid documents.

The city is open to various ways to split up the pie with the management group, including "incentive payments, a long-term lease with an upfront payment or an alternative structure that meets the city's requirements for a long-term partnership."

To sell the idea to potential developers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration touts Chicago's large regional population, growing tourism base, the Riverwalk's prime location and ongoing development in the area.

"With over 100,000 square feet of commercial development opportunity, the Chicago Riverwalk is a great example of how successfully creating land will capture future value," the documents state. "The Chicago Riverwalk is a transformative place-making opportunity to activate the historically significant Chicago River year-round for both residents and tourists."

Considering the sometimes brutal winters that feature brisk, chilly winds along the river, the year-round component may be a tough sell, something the city concedes. "In climates with weather uncertainty, some architectural designs that are becoming popular include tenting, retractable roofing, patio enclosures and adaptable awnings," according to the bid documents.

Shannon Breymaier, an Emanuel spokeswoman, said the city seeks "a year-round destination that reflects the spirit of the city, and this potentially could also include some enclosed spaces."

The idea of a cleaner, more attractive river fit for recreational use was first envisioned decades ago, with the late Mayor Richard J. Daley talking in 1970 about the possibility of downtown workers fishing on lunch break. Riverwalk construction was launched by his son, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, in the 1990s. Emanuel, who has proposed a Great Chicago Fire Festival along the waterway, secured the federal loans for the extension.

Additional development could be added to the already built portion, including adding a second story to the space now housing O'Brien's Riverwalk Cafe just east of Wabash Street and shops east, between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive, according to the documents.

Plans for the new portion, which were first revealed in October 2012, included a marina, kayak rentals, a theater, a children's play fountain, floating gardens and fishing piers all in areas divided by the movable bridges above at street level.

Also called for in the new bid documents are "sustainable practices" such as using native plants and salvaging existing architectural elements.

The team that's chosen would be responsible for "commercial build-out, leasing, programming, marketing and operation of the Riverwalk." The Chicago Park District has been handling vendors along the Riverwalk since 2009 under an agreement that expires at the end of the year.

hdardick@tribune.com

Twitter @ReporterHal

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(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

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Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)


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