City announces plan to renovate riverwalk

By The Columbia Chronicle

The promenade surrounding the Chicago River will undergo a facelift next year.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a plan Oct. 8 to expand the century-old Chicago Riverwalk trail to Lake Street past its current end at Dearborn Street.

“[The Chicago Riverwalk] is going to be sort of a signature project for the city and for Chicagoans,” said Peter Scales, a Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman.

Scales said the project will be finished by the end of 2014 and will cost an estimated $90 million to $100 million.

“[Five years ago], we did not have the funds available for something like that,” Scales said. “We were [more] focused on everyday infrastructure.”

To fund the project, Scales said CDOT is applying for a government loan through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, which provides low-interest federal loans for projects with either regional or national impact.

According to Scales, the city has been hoping to enlarge the park since construction began on Lower Wacker Drive in the 1990s, but the design for a civic promenade is even older than that. According to a project summary drafted by Sasaki Associates, the firm that created the plan, the design resembles 19th-century Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s vision for the city.

Six new water-themed segments will be added to the existing structure, with additional space for restaurants and shops. Sasaki Associates’ summary describes the possibility of a swimming pool, a theater and a fishing area.

“We’re really excited,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, a group dedicated to revitalizing the river. “We’ve said that there should be a continuous river trail since our founding.”

Frisbie said the organization has been working to clean the river for public use since 1979. Before then, the city deemed the water too polluted for public use because city waste systems discharged sewage into the river. A water cleanup act passed in June 2011.