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History of The Centennial Vision

Now in its second century, Navy Pier is undergoing redevelopment as it reimagines and reinvents itself as a bolder, greener, more contemporary public space that offers expanded arts and cultural programming and showcases a uniquely Chicago experience for its over nine million annual guests. Read more about the Centennial Vision.

Navy Pier has been a Chicago icon and popular destination throughout much of its history. Opened to the public in 1916 and originally named “Municipal Pier,” Navy Pier was built under nationally-known architect Charles Sumner Frost based on Daniel Burnham’s “Master Plan of Chicago.” Municipal Pier was officially renamed Navy Pier in 1927 as a tribute to the Navy personnel who were housed at the Pier during World War I.

Designated as a Chicago landmark in 1977, Navy Pier underwent a redevelopment in 1994 with improvements made to nearly every aspect of the Pier. Since it reopened in July 1995, Navy Pier has offered a diverse and eclectic experience and is positioned in one of the most unique settings in the world. 

The Centennial Arrives

As Navy Pier approached its centennial in 2016, it was time to revisit its legacy and reimagine its potential through a contemporary lens. Navy Pier had enjoyed both popular and commercial success. It already had much of what was necessary to become a world-class public place, but for the Pier to truly achieve this status it would have to embrace and implement a new vision. The search for a design team was an important part of a larger Navy Pier initiative, entitled The Centennial Vision. Its goal was, and continues to be, to make Navy Pier a truly iconic and eclectic world-class destination.

In addition to Navy Pier’s current renovations for our centennial revision, the Pier has welcomed a brand new Centennial Wheel, which opened Memorial Day 2016. The new wheel was designed by the global leading Ferris Wheel design company, Dutch Wheels located in Vlodrop, Netherlands. It stands is 196 feet tall and has 42 climate controlled gondolas. The gondolas are colored our signature Navy Pier blue, seat up to ten people and come equipped with a multimedia entertainment system. In addition, each gondola has individual seats as opposed to bench seating, making the new Navy Pier Centennial Wheel the first of its kind.

NPI and The Centennial Vision

In July of 2011, Navy Pier, Inc. (NPI), the newly formed not-for-profit entity entrusted with the operation and redevelopment of Navy Pier, put forth The Centennial Vision, a framework for reimagining Navy Pier. The vision’s purpose is not only to expand the Pier’s audience but to enrich the experience of its visitors. Like other Chicago endeavors – Millennium Park is a recent example – The Centennial Vision aims high and establishes a framework befitting a world-class city with a vibrant architectural, cultural, environmental, and recreational landscape.

Design Team Search

In September of 2011, an invitation was sent to design firms worldwide to submit their qualifications. Five Pierscape design proposals were selected from 52 submissions. These designs were on display for public exhibition and feedback at various locations throughout the city in the winter of 2012.

Design Team Selection: James Corner Field Operations

In March of 2012, the NPI Board announced that design firm James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) had been selected as the winning team. The firm, led by Founder James Corner, is an award-winning landscape architecture and urban design firm that has gained international recognition and acclaim.

The public spaces JCFO was chosen to redesign include the Pier’s public spaces known as Pierscape – Polk Bros Park at the west entrance of the Pier, Pier Park, East End Plaza and the South Dock – along with smaller public spaces that dot the length of the Pier. This work includes enhancements to the Pier’s landscaping and streetscape along with the addition of water features, public art, and lighting. Read more about James Corner Field Operations.

Phase I Redevelopment

The first phase of redevelopment, completed in 2016, included the redesign of the Pier’s public spaces, known as Pierscape, and improvements to the interior of the Family Pavilion and South Arcade.

Phase I projects included the transformation of South Dock into a more engaging, greener space, conversion of the South Arcade indoor walkway into a Chicago-themed food experience and creation of a lighted water fountain/ice skating rink in Polk Bros Park.

In November of 2016, Navy Pier, Inc. proudly announced Phase I development had achieved Gold certification under the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) rating system, the first project to earn this level of certification under SITES v2. Phase 1’s Gold certification demonstrates NPI’s undeniable commitment to the environment through expanded green spaces, improved pedestrian access, energy efficiency, innovative storm water management, use of recycled local materials and much more. Read more about the SITES Certification of Phase I.

Phase II Redevelopment

Phase II projects include the development of a seven-story, 240-room hotel, adjacent to the south side of Festival Hall; marquee additions to the East End Plaza, including a proposed arched, elevated overlook walkway and reflective water feature; a Welcome Pavilion in Polk Bros Park with 4,000 square feet for guest services and programmatic space; a seasonal ice rink within the footprint of the Polk Bros Park’s fountain and plaza; and a short-term, north-side boat docking facility for use by recreational boaters seasonally. 

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