Building commission okays two new harbors

The Public Building Commission yesterday approved construction of two new lakefront harbors in an effort to increase dock space, boost park district revenue and add to the city’s global appeal.

“This is an exciting new project and I think it’s one of the more significant things our district has done,” said park district board President Gery Chico.

One new facility, dubbed Gateway Harbor, will be built at Dime Pier, located south of Navy Pier at the mouth of the Chicago River.  The 31st Street Harbor is slated to be built just south of 31st Street Beach.

According to Director of Lakefront Construction Rob Rejman, the Gateway Harbor project will cost around $40 million dollars and the 31st street harbor is projected at about $70 million.

Only preliminary planning has taken place so far. Officials say they are still finalizing designs. Rejman said that construction would likely begin early in 2010, although no formal timelines have been set for the beginning or end of the building process for the harbors.

“We’re still evaluating the schedule for both [harbors], based on our ability to procure stone, availability of materials and contractors. We will be working closely with the PBC to develop a more clear schedule moving forward,” Rejman said. 

In designing the harbors, the park district is relying heavily on input from Chicago’s boating community.  

“We wanted to get as much public input as possible,” said Rejman.

The number of boating slips available to Chicagoans will increase by about 1,000, from the current 5,100, Rejman said.  That will make it easier for boaters to find dock spots, and also increase park district revenue.

“We have waiting lists where people wait for 10-years plus to get into the harbor system…. we’re just trying to accommodate the demand, and do it in a sensible way,” Rejman said.

The piers will also have space that can be used for boat storage during the winter, and for car parking during the summer.

Though Rejman insisted that plans for the two harbors existed prior to the city's effort to attract the 2016 Olympics, he believes that construction of the harbors will increase Chicago’s allure.

“Increasing recreational access to the lakefront is great for Chicagoans in general, and harbors specifically help to improve our ability to accept the world and bring people to the region on the waterfront, to our front door,” Rejman said.

Rejman said the park district hopes to have Gateway Harbor open in Spring of 2011, with the 31st Street Harbor's opening following in Spring of 2012.

Rejman admits that Chicago’s Olympic committee will likely see Gateway Harbor and the 31st Street Harbor as beneficial to their efforts to garner the 2016 bid, but he doesn’t foresee the harbors being used for potential Olympic events.

PBC board member, Samuel Sax said he's proud of the planning that's gone into the harbors.

“I think it’s an outstanding continuation to the best use of waterfront property of any major city in the country,” Sax said.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the PBC vote  approved construction of the new harbors, rather than spending more than $100 million on the harbors. An earlier version stated otherwise.