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Per State and City orders, Navy Pier was closed to the public from March 17 to June 10 to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its reopening, the organization has sought to find solutions that would enable it to continue its operations with the safety and security measures currently in place. While we have been able to resume partial operations and safely welcome guests back to the Pier, we are seeing only about 15–20% of our typical summer attendance, making it difficult to generate revenues that support our standard operations.
Navy Pier has operated as an independent nonprofit organization since 2011. Although the organization maintains facilities on publicly-owned property, Navy Pier does not receive any public tax dollars to support its operating costs. The Pier relies on generous philanthropic support from individuals, foundations and corporations with the majority of revenues earned through operational income, such as rent and fees from on-site partner establishments (restaurants, retail shops, cultural anchors, etc.), private events, consumer and trade shows, parking and ticket sales from attractions.
To date, the Centennial Wheel and other Pier Park attractions—a primary source of revenue—have not been able to open and operate. On-site cultural anchors, such as Chicago Children’s Museum and Chicago Shakespeare Theater, have also not yet reopened. Additionally, the Pier has extended rent relief to all of its on-site tenant partners. The parking garages have also seen a significant drop in parking activity, even with discounted parking rates currently in place. And all private events, consumer/trade shows and other bookings have been canceled in our East End event facilities. We rely heavily on these sources of revenue. Furthermore, restrictive capacity limitations for many of our events, restaurants and venues have prevented the Pier from resuming full operations and offering full experiences to guests. The loss of those earnings has been devastating to the organization’s budget, resulting in a projected deficit of $20 million.
With the support of the government funding program, the CARES Act, we were able to temporarily retain staff through the Paycheck Protection Program(PPP) loan. Our hope was that once we reopened, revenues would be restored at a more sustainable level. Unfortunately, that has not been realized.
To help limit costs, Navy Pier has implemented the following financial adjustments and measures:
• Navy Pier President and CEO has taken a 44% compensation reduction and the executive leadership team members have taken a 33% reduction since mid-May
• Many full-time administrative staff members have been furloughed
• Planned capital improvements have been postponed
• Hiring of critical positions has been suspended
• Contractual services have been significantly reduced
• Budgets have been drastically reduced
• As of Monday, July 27, we made the difficult decision to reduce our full-time administrative staff through layoffs (approximately 20 percent of our employees, totaling 11 positions, in addition to 9 trades workers)
These decisions are not ones that were made lightly and were done after a long and careful review of the Pier’s projected financials with knowledge that many good people would be affected. As an organization that cares deeply about its employees, we held off on making these changes for as long as our finances would allow.
Navy Pier sought and secured a PPP loan, which granted the organization $2.5 million to help preserve the salaries and benefits for eight weeks to retain 55 full-time administrative employees while revenue generation was completely halted during the Pier’s closure. The loan also made it possible for Navy Pier to retain and provide essential job training remotely with pay to 170 part-time seasonal guest service and Pier Park employees to prepare for summer and retained 26 full-time tradespeople, 21 whom were previously laid off who were able to return and begin preparing the Pier for its impending reopening.
As outlined within the parameters of the PPP loan, funds were used to cover up to $100,000 of each full-time employee’s salary, support benefits, satisfy rent/mortgage payments, cover utilities, etc.
Unlike other similar nonprofit cultural institutions, Navy Pier does not receive public funding from city, county or state tax revenue, nor does it have an endowment to rely upon. The PPP loan was a critical source of funding that is helping to bridge the gap created by the Pier’s closure and lost revenues.
Since reopening to the public on June 10, Navy Pier has kept the health, safety and well-being of staff, partners and guests at the forefront of its operations, implementing several safety measures with guidance from the State, City and CDC, including:
• Multiple layers of stringent cleaning and disinfecting of all high-touch surfaces and public spaces • Enforcing the use of face masks or coverings for all individuals at Navy Pier, including employees, partners and guests
• Temperature screening Navy Pier employees
• Providing signage across the Pier marking the appropriate amount of space people should maintain as social distancing guidance
• Designating Social Distancing Ambassadors, who circulate the Pier to cordially remind guests to practice physical distancing
• Limiting the volume of people at Navy Pier’s public programs, events and within indoor and outdoor spaces at a given time to a number that is proportional and conducive to physical distancing for that space
• Prohibiting gathering of large groups of 10 or more people
• Installing nearly 80 hand sanitizing dispensers across the Pier for convenient access to hand hygiene care
• Among many other measures and practices
Navy Pier has been able to successfully present its free summer programs safely as a result of our exhaustive safety measures and practices. The guest response has been phenomenal, with our outdoor movies and fitness programs seeing a full turnout in Polk Bros Park. Social distancing circles outlined throughout the park has been instrumental in helping guests maintain space between others and safely enjoy these programs.
While the financial impact is undoubtedly harrowing, our priority now is to continue to execute our mission-driven programs, maintain the safety and well-being of our staff, partners and guests, and serve our community, city and region to the best of our abilities.
Our hope is that with support from Chicagoans and the donor community, we will emerge from this crisis restored, renewed and stronger. We are on the path to a new era for Navy Pier, and we are working towards transforming this distressing situation into one of resilience and new opportunities as we continue to bring to life the vision for the Pier.