Main Section of the Chicago Riverwalk About to Become a Thing

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's Cove section between Dearborn and Clark Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s Cove section between Dearborn and Clark Streets

A couple of days ago, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly sent out an e-mail letting his constituents know that another  link in the chain of parks that will eventually make up the Chicago Riverwalk will inch toward reality just in time for the onset of winter.

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's Marina section between State and Dearborn Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s Marina section between State and Dearborn Streets

The e-mail claims that the Chicago Department of Transportation is going to begin construction on the portion of the riverwalk along the heart of the main channel of the Chicago River  in a matter of weeks.

Here’s the full e-mail:

Alderman Reilly is pleased to announce the continuation of the Chicago Riverwalk improvement project! The next phase of this project, which will improve the south Riverwalk, from State to Lake, is a forward-looking plan to improve this under-utilized natural asset. Upon completion, these 6 blocks of the Chicago Riverwalk will be activated as an exciting downtown amenity.

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is set to begin construction on the next phase of the Chicago Riverwalk in the fall of 2013.

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's River Theater section between Clark and LaSalle Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s River Theater section between Clark and LaSalle Streets

The Chicago River is one of the City’s greatest natural assets, but is largely underutilized downtown as a corridor for transportation, recreation and economic development. Completion of the Riverwalk will improve pedestrian safety and promote walkable communities while at the same time supporting economic development for Chicago’s local businesses.

The City has secured $100 million from the USDOT’s Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, which will cover the vast majority of the project. Consistent with the City’s public-private partnership initiatives, the City will also pursue sponsorship opportunities for the ongoing maintenance and operations of the new riverwalk facilities.

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's River Boardwalk section between Lake and Franklin Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s River Boardwalk section between Lake and Franklin Streets

CDOT has been working on the Chicago Riverwalk since East-West Wacker Drive reconstruction began in the 1990s.  The roadway was reconfigured to accommodate the expansion of the Riverwalk to promote a pedestrian walkway and activate the space as a public amenity.  The East-West Wacker Project included utility build-outs for the future Riverwalk build-out for the entire length from Michigan to Lake Street.

In 2009, CDOT completed the first phase of the Riverwalk build-out at Michigan Avenue and Wabash, which was funded through Tax Increment Financing.

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's River Jetty section between Wells and Franklin Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s River Jetty section between Wells and Franklin Streets

In 2010, CDOT issued an RFP/RFQ for the team to finalize the design of the framework plan developed through the city’s Riverwalk Development Committee.   In May 2011, the chosen design team of Sasaki Associates Inc., Alfred Benesch & Co., Ross Barney Architects and Jacobs/Ryan Associates began work on the design plans for the next six blocks from State to Lake.

The Riverwalk design plans include conceptual ideas for each of the six blocks from State Street west to Lake Street with distinctive identities and purpose, thematically named:  The Marina (from State to Dearborn); The Cove (Dearborn to Clark); The River Theater (Clark to LaSalle); The Swimming Hole (LaSalle to Wells); The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) and The Boardwalk (Franklin to Lake).

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's River Swimming Hole section between LaSalle and Wells Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s River Swimming Hole section between LaSalle and Wells Streets

The bridges over the river establish a boundary between each block, which allow for each to have a unique identity and landscaping.  Each block will be linked by the continuous walkway along the river, beneath each bridge.  The design of the blocks has considered the previous feasibility studies and the changing operations of the waterway.

The Marina is designed to accommodate restaurant retail space and public seating.  The River Theater will serve as the location for the vertical access between Upper Wacker and the Riverwalk level.  The Cove may allow for human-powered watercraft to dock.

The Swimming Hole provides a great area for recreation, which may include a water feature such as a zero-depth fountain.   The Jetty is a location for learning about the ecology of the river, with floating gardens and piers for fishing.  The Boardwalk, still in a conceptual stage of design, will bring people from Upper Wacker down to the Riverwalk level.

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk's River Theater section as seen from Upper Wacker Drive between Clark and LaSalle Streets

Drawing of the proposed Chicago Riverwalk’s River Theater section as seen from Upper Wacker Drive between Clark and LaSalle Streets

The plans reflect the build-out limits and general design of the entire riverwalk project which was agreed upon through a public development process in 1999.

The United States Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers and other waterway stakeholders – community groups, commercial operators and the recreational users of the river – continue to play an important role in shaping the development of the Riverwalk plans.

The Chicago River is undergoing a number of improvements in addition to the Riverwalk project.  The Chicago Park District, with private sector partners, is constructing four new boathouses along the river.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is providing free technical assistance to meet new federal water quality standards as well as nearly $1 million in grants to community partners to eradicate invasive plants and place Chicago residents in jobs that focus on environmental cleanup.

 

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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