CHICAGO — Navy Pier will close again rather than fight for the comparatively few visitors willing to venture onto the partially reopened lakeside destination amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The human-made structure jutting into Lake Michigan and lined with restaurants, carnival rides and cultural destinations — many of them still closed — will shut down again Sept. 8 and stay shut until spring in order to save money and protect the attraction’s long-term financial health, pier officials announced Tuesday morning.
“We are only seeing about 15 to 20% of the attendance that we would typically see this time of year, which is also typically our busiest time of the year,” said Marilynn Gardner the pier president and CEO. “We need to do this now to get to the other side of the pandemic.”
Closing as the weather turns colder and visitorship typically decreases will help the pier limit its losses in a year when the not-for-profit entity was already projecting falling $20 million short of anticipated revenues. That’s more than a third of last year’s $58.9 million take, according to the executive.
One new business may open, however. The new 222-room Sable Hotel atop an existing pier building is nearing completion, and pier officials said it could go ahead and open while the rest of the pier is closed, according to Robert Habeeb, CEO of Maverick Hotels and Restaurants, the developer of the property that will operate under the Curio Collection by Hilton umbrella.
“As of today our goal is to open the hotel on time Nov. 1,” Habeeb said Monday evening, although he emphasized that, as with everything during the pandemic, plans are subject to revision.
Navy Pier’s plan to go back into shutdown mode marks the most notable retreat by a Chicago institution in the battle to restart public life amid the economic devastation wrought by COVID-19, which forced most city and state public spaces to close in mid-March in order to try to stop the spread of the virus.
Navy Pier was early to reopen, on June 10, at first using only its outdoor spaces, except for the parking garage and some bathrooms. When the city officially reached Phase 4 June 26, the pier’s indoor shops and restaurants were allowed to reopen.
But what was typically the most popular tourist spot in the Midwest _ or second most popular after Chicago’s Millennium Park, if you believe a high-tech crowd count commissioned by the city _ has struggled since allowing people back almost three months after the pier’s March 16 closure.
The limited reopening, with masks and distancing required throughout, meant revenue was always going to be a challenge, Gardner said, as was the unwillingness of people to travel.
Visits are down 93% year-to-year from the Pier’s 8 key “feeder states” of Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin, said Gardner. The visits from Illinois are down 79 percent, while the proportion of in-state visitors is up by 66 percent. Those who are coming, in other words, are primarily locals.