CHICAGO (CBS)– Navy Pier, a number-one tourism destination in the Midwest, is the latest victim of COVID-19.
The pier will close starting Sept. 8, in an “effort to limit the financial burden and impact of the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the organization.” Both indoor and outdoor spaces will be closed to the public.
The pier is not expected to re-open until spring 2021. CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey asked Tuesday if enough was done to stop Navy Pier from closing.
It is important to note that while the property is publicly-owned, Navy Pier does not receive tax dollars to support its operating costs. They did get a Paycheck Protection Program loan from the federal government, but they said it was not enough.
Rebecca Novotny has worked at the Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze at Navy Pier for the last nine summers. But this summer, the fun seekers are few and far between.
“It doesn’t compare to our usual volume,” Novotny said.
She just got the word about the closing on Tuesday, Sept. 8, and wishes the businesses had more notice.
“For now, it seems like a somewhat logical thing to do,” Novotny said. “I just wish that we’d gotten a little more information.”
Outside, the iconic Centennial Wheel is frozen in time – to a time before the pandemic hit Chicago.
The city ordered Navy Pier closed from March 16 to June 10. And even since then, the pier’s major revenue generators including the Centennial Wheel and other Pier Park attractions, as well as the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, have not operated.
The abbreviated summer left the pier with a $20 million deficit in a $60 million operating budget.
“It’s simply not going to be enough for what would keep the pier open and operating and also preserve all of the businesses that also operate here,” said Payal Patel, communications director for Navy Pier.
Patel confirmed to the CBS 2 Investigators that Navy Pier received PPP loan of $2.5 million. But she said it only carried them eight weeks.
Now, Navy Pier is left with no option but to shut down to save money.
“I’m devastated,” said Steven Hartenstein, Chief Financial and Operating Officer for Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants. “We have staff that have been with us since day one.”
Phil Stefani Signature Restaurant’ Riva has been a staple at the Pier since 1995 – the year Navy Pier began in its present-day tourist attraction incarnation. Hartenstein estimates they’ve contributed nearly $100 million in rent and profits to the pier over that time.
“You know this is the number one tourist destination in Illinois?” Hartenstein said. “So what does that say? It says we need to come together we need to rebuild.”
Right now, as noted, the planned reopening date is spring 2021. But is there a possibility of a grimmer future?
Hickey: “Is there any circumstance that you’re considering at this point that Navy pier doesn’t reopen?”
Payal: “No, that’s not being considered at this time. We’re hopeful it will reopen in the spring. We’re hopeful that there’s a vaccine on the way and that this pandemic is going to come to an end in 2021.”
Navy Pier also has about 70 vendors who rent space from them inside the building. Patel said they have worked out rent relief deals with each one.
As to whether some major attractions such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theater can operate while the pier itself is closed, Navy Pier said it is looking into the possibility and is currently in negotiations to see what they can do. The Shakespeare Theater said Tuesday that it is moving ahead with its 2021 season.
The current design of Navy Pier dates from 1995, when a $200 million redevelopment was completed.
The Family Pavilion, Crystal Gardens, carousel, and first Ferris wheel opened to much fanfare in the summer of that year, along with the food court and new restaurants. The Chicago Children’s Museum moved to Navy Pier from the old North Pier Terminal in October 1995, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater arrived at Navy Pier in 1999, and the old Ferris wheel was replaced with the larger Centennial Wheel in 2016.
For decades prior to 1995, Navy Pier was considered underutilized. It hosted the annual ChicagoFest music festival from 1978 through 1982 and also hosted events such as art fairs and summer iterations of the WBEZ-Old Town School of Folk Music “Flea Market” concert series in the 1980s, but had no permanent attractions.
Earlier in the 20th century, Navy Pier served as a base for the technical training of U.S. Navy troops during World War II, and as a campus for the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Every year, Navy Pier welcomes about 9 million guests. Right now, the pier is seeing about 20 percent of its typical summer attendance.