Mission Accomplished: Mayor Announces Completion of Chicago Riverwalk

Weather Station by the Chicago-based artist team Iñigo Manglano Ovalle and Bill Baker City of Chicago


On Monday outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the completion of the city's 1.25-mile Chicago Riverwalk when he led a celebration to open the newest section of the walk, the Chicago Riverwalk East (the Section Between Michigan Ave. to Lake Shore Drive), featuring a new landscape, seating, vendor spaces, a community market place, and of course, public art.

Together with city officials, Riverwalk architects, site designers, artists, vendors and other local partners the Mayor celebrated the opening of what may be his signature contribution to the city, the newly transformed Chicago Riverwalk. This completion of this final portion of the Riverwalk, which cost $12 million, means that every block of this award-winning 1.25-mile promenade and recreational amenity has been modernized or developed for the first time. 

“Chicago is reconnecting with the River in a way that improves our quality of life, protects ourenvironment and enhances economic development that is sustainable for future generations,” said Mayor Emanuel. “The completion of Riverwalk East is a major milestone in that journey. We are finally fulfilling Daniel Burnham’s original vision of Chicago as a true two-waterfrontcity.”

In August 2018, Mayor Emanuel announced plans to improve older sections of the east end of the Riverwalk from Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive, building upon the success of the Riverwalk and creating even more opportunities for residents and visitors to interact with and enjoy the Chicago River.

The design team, led by Mueller and Mueller, worked with the landscape architecture firm of Site Design Group to substantially complete this reimagination of Riverwalk East. This design emphasizes the transition from a park-like environment on the east end near Lake Shore Drive to the urban civic space of Michigan Avenue and creates areas of public seating surrounded bylandscaping. The new Riverwalk East space includes: 10,000 square feet of “play” space; 94new LED dark sky compliant light fixtures; three public restrooms; approximately 150 new tree plantings from 35 different species to increase the diversity of the urban tree canopy, and 20 types of furnishings from the Riverwalk palette increasing public seating by over 500 along the Riverwalk.

“I have been designing public spaces in the City of Chicago for the past twenty-five years," said Ernie Wong of Site Design Group. "It is an honor to have worked with Muller 2 and the Department of Fleet and Facility Management on the site improvements for Riverwalk East! The design intent was to take a largely urban hardscape on the west end and transiting to a natural and lush landscaped corridor. The project adds valuable open space, better pedestrian access to the river and seating to view the natural asset in the heart of downtown Chicago.”

In line with the Mayor’s goal of bringing more public art to the Riverwalk and throughout thecity, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the Department of Fleet and Facility Management (2FM) led a Riverwalk East Gateway Project committee to select a new work of art that will create an iconic visual marker for the south bank of the Chicago River just east of Michigan Avenue. The committee selected Weather Station by the Chicago-based artist team Iñigo Manglano Ovalle and Bill Baker. Manglano-Ovalle is a renowned conceptual and visual artist working across media to create large-scale installations and architectural interventions, and Baker is a structural engineering partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), whose innovative structural engineering design and research have been vitalin realizing some of the world’s most recognizable structures.

Scheduled for completion in fall of 2020, Weather Station comprises an array of seven slender, stainless steel towers of varying heights – each culminating in a wind vane and anemometer –collectively rising from the river bank to a height of 117 feet.

A rendering of Weather Station. City of Chicago

“The Chicago Riverwalk has become an escape from the everyday with one-of-a-kind visual art projections at Art on theMart and new works of public art that enhance what is truly amagnificent urban space,” said DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly. “Once complete, Weather Station will become an iconic public art landmark rising from the banks of the Chicago River with its animated stainless steel towers."

Additionally, a submarine memorial designed and funded by a group of Navy volunteers is another new addition to Riverwalk East, and will be dedicated on Saturday, May 18. The memorial commemorates the 28 submarines manufactured in Wisconsin that used the Chicago River to connect through various waterways to the Gulf of Mexico and on to the war efforts after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

As part of additional investments in the Riverwalk, Mayor Emanuel, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) and 2FM developed the Riverwalk Community Marketplace between Michigan and Wabash Avenues, a new concessions programto highlight existing vendors in the City’s culturally diverse communities. Construction on themarketplace began in the fall of 2018. This investment includes the expansion of the existing path to create a corridor for the placement of kiosks. Following a 2FM public solicitation to identify marketplace vendors that encouraged minority and women-owned vendors to apply, the new Community Marketplace will open in June and will feature nine new vendors.

Additionally, five panel installations by artist Ebony G. Patterson were unveiled and will sit above the Chicago First Lady ticket booths. Patterson, represented locally by Monique Meloche Gallery, is known for colorful, large-scale, multimedia murals created out of everyday, tactile materials. 

The gauzy installations by sculptor Robert Burnier, featuring site responsive tent-like geometric structures of steel, nylon, hardware, streamers, are also still on view on the west end banks of the River. 

It's worth noting that Mayor Emanuel leaves office in just a few days, on May 20. 

In a May 2 interview with the Chicago Tribune, when asked why he placed so much importance on arts and culture while in office – and according to the reporter, perhaps too much – Emanuel responded, 

"It was always more than programming for me. It was about policy. The arts and culture imbued everything we did. They influenced our educational policy. They changed the CTA — there is not a new transit station now that does not have art. The arts have been an outlook, a philosophy and an approach. That is what our cultural plan was about — seeping the arts into everything the city did. Culture is the soul of this city."

The Chicago Sun-Times also reported this week, "Mayor Rahm Emanuel has privately told associates that, if anything in Chicago is ever named after him, he would love it to be the Riverwalk, the embodiment of his vision to create a “second waterfront.”

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