Chicago preparing for major Riverwalk expansion

Kevin Tiongson
The Congress Parkway Bridge and the Civic Opera House  have new plans to redesign the unused space.

By Blaise Mesa

Chicago is planning to renovate three locations to further expand the city’s Riverwalk and is currently receiving public feedback to help select a design.

The back of the Civic Opera House, the area beneath the Congress Parkway bridge, and the land from Ping Tom Park to the St. Charles Air Line Bridge in Chinatown are the three designated places for Riverwalk construction, which have 27 possible designs from nine different architecture firms, according to a Sept. 14 mayoral press release. 

“It’s a beautiful space,” said Winifred Curran, a geography associate professor and co-director of the master program in Sustainable Urban Development at DePaul University. “It’ll be great for a city [such as Chicago] where people go outside to enjoy the weather when it warms up.” 

Local architecture firms have submitted early designs, which are on display at Expo 72, 72 E. Randolph St., until January 2018. Ideas include a floating ecology classroom, a boating raceway, audiovisual performance space and a Riverwalk extension to Ping Tom Park. 

“This bold initiative will help us imagine new possibilities to further develop our riverfront in ways that will benefit current and future generations,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in the Sept. 14 press release. 

Of the three locations, the Civic Opera House is the oldest and most historic, said Jasmine Lee, who works at G2 Crowd, a business inside the opera house. Lee said she is concerned that the construction could alter the opera house’s exterior, adding that she does not think the Riverwalk needs updating. 

 The Riverwalk expansion will benefit local businesses in the long run, Curran said, adding that she expects it will encourage people to explore other city locations they might have neglected before.

“It’s always really cool to bring traffic to this side of the Loop,” said Laurel Freidenberg, chief of staff at Eastman Egg Company, 23 N. Upper Wacker Drive. The company, directly across from the Civic Opera House, might even be able to open the store on weekends or later at night because of the Riverwalk’s extension, she added. 

Amanda Neely, owner of Overflow Coffee Bar, 1550 S. State St., near the St. Charles Airline Bridge, expressed concern about the renovations. The Riverwalk brings potential for new business, she said, but it can also attract chains and franchises. Curran also shared concern especially about the construction potentially disrupting traffic patterns and hindering deliveries and the businesses’ overall accessibility.

Freidenberg said she isn’t overly concerned with the upcoming construction.“I think noise—and if it becomes obstructive to the sidewalk, at that point it becomes a little concerning.” 

Eastman Egg Company has many dedicated customers in the area who do not commute via car, so there would not be a problem if there were road closures, she said.

“That idea of access and convenience are the biggest barriers,” Curran said.