Six quick fixes for Navy Pier

These practical changes could be made now.
By Web Behrens and Lauren Weinberg |
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Update the IMAX Theatre. The IMAX is still one of the best places to catch a 3-D movie, but surely programmers can do better than a marathon run of Tron: Legacy, which ran for a good two months after opening nationwide. And they could spiff up the joint: A nicer railing would quell the high-school auditorium feel, and adding bathrooms somewhere near the concessions counter is a must—no one wants to wade out into the crowded Family Pavilion mid-movie.

Add rotating exhibitions at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. The museum, in Festival Hall, is a secret Chicago treasure. (Did you even know it exists? Exactly.) The layout—a museum disguised as a promenade—is great; the always-free admission, unbeatable. But to entice a fresh stream of regular visitors besides neighborhing WBEZ’s employees, Smith should work more closely with stained-glass treasure trove the Driehaus Museum to host rotating temporary exhibitions.

Let piergoers view WBEZ broadcasts. Beloved public-radio station WBEZ could transform its first-floor mock studio booth into a space for live broadcasts before an audience, just like WGN radio on Michigan Avenue and Eyewitness News on State Street. It’s a simple way to lure crowds to the pier’s underused eastern end.

Fix the pier’s mishmashed interior layout. The winding indoor paths get easily clogged by a half-mile’s worth of tacky kiosks selling tackier gifts. To overcome the traffic jams of tourists and strollers, let’s craft cleaner, more direct pathways, which would also make life easier for convention attendees.

Add a bicycle path around the pier’s perimeter. Approaching the pier via bike from the north is one of the great pleasures of cycling in the city, but a path that wraps around the pier, like the one that lets you ride (or jog) all around the Museum Campus peninsula, would provide an inherently scenic, simple attraction—especially useful, because there’s already a bike-rental station on the spot.

Open an Art Institute of Chicago satellite gallery. Even after building the Modern Wing, the Art Institute can display only about 8 percent of its permanent collection at a time, according to AIC spokeswoman Erin Hogan. That priceless art wouldn’t have to languish unseen in storage if the museum had a satellite gallery for rotating exhibitions, possibly where the pier’s current parking lot stands. We’re picturing something akin to the Cloisters, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annex for medieval art in New York.

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