(CBS) – A longtime dream of Chicago mayors past and present is about to come true.

The Chicago River, once an old industrial pathway, would be transformed into the city’s new recreational frontier, under a project that hinges on an expected $100 million loan announced Thursday.

“This riverwalk becomes another economic corridor in downtown Chicago,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at a news conference with Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Nearby, workers continued revamping the Wells Street Bridge over the river – creating what looked like a construction zone. By 2016, officials promised, the area would look very different.

The stretch of river between State and Dearborn would be the Marina, where people will descend from street level to a series of restaurants and public-seating areas. A block further west from Dearborn to Clark will be called The Cove, with docks for canoes and kayaks.

The so-called Swimming Hole, between LaSalle and Wells, may include a zero-depth fountain and other recreational facilities. The Jetty is expected to have floating gardens and piers for fishing.

“This will not only create jobs for those who will build the riverwalk, but well beyond that,” LaHood said.

The $100 million loan would be paid back over 35 years from tour boat, restaurant and other new riverfront business revenues.

Emanuel, a former White House chief of staff, worked with LaHood in Obama administration.