PIER TO­DAY, GONE TO­MOR­ROW

With at­ten­dance down more than 80% and fac­ing a $20M deficit amid the pan­demic, Navy Pier to close un­til spring 2021

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVID ROEDER, BUSI­NESS & LA­BOR RE­PORTER droeder@sun­times.com | @Roed­erDavid Con­tribut­ing: Miriam Di Nun­zio

With at­ten­dance down to a trickle due to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, the op­er­a­tor of Chicago’s Navy Pier said Tues­day the lake­front at­trac­tion will close Sept. 8 and will not re­open un­til next spring.

The de­ci­sion means more than 70 busi­nesses that op­er­ate at the pier must close. Ma­jor at­trac­tions such as the Fer­ris wheel and the Chicago Chil­dren’s Mu­seum al­ready are closed.

Mar­i­lynn Gard­ner, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Navy Pier Inc., the pri­vate, not-for-profit com­pany that runs the pier un­der a $1-a-year con­tract with the Metropoli­tan Pier and Ex­po­si­tion Author­ity, said the at­trac­tion is fac­ing a $20 mil­lion deficit this year be­cause of lost busi­ness due to COVID-19. The pier closed March 16 and re­opened June 10 but has seen sum­mer at­ten­dance at less than 20% of nor­mal rates.

“While this was a very dif­fi­cult de­ci­sion for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, it was a nec­es­sary one to proac­tively en­sure the long-term suc­cess of one of Chicago’s most trea­sured and im­por­tant civic in­sti­tu­tions and the com­mu­ni­ties it serves,” Gard­ner said. “This de­ci­sion will also help pre­serve the fu­ture of the many on-site busi­nesses, which con­tinue to face hard­ships of their own as a re­sult of the pan­demic. The tem­po­rary clo­sure will al­low the Pier and its part­ners to re­duce its op­er­a­tional ex­penses and sup­port ef­forts to limit COVID-19 cases as we move into the fall and win­ter sea­sons.”

Cory Jobe, the pier’s vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said pub­lic ac­cess to

Polk Bros. Park at the fa­cil­ity’s western end will con­tinue but that the north and south docks will be closed.

He de­clined to give a pos­si­ble date for re­open­ing, say­ing, “We’re at the mercy of the pan­demic.”

The clout-heavy Navy Pier Inc. got nearly $2.5 mil­lion in coro­n­avirus stim­u­lus money from the fed­eral Pay­check Pro­tec­tion Pro­gram. It pre­vi­ously has said the money went to­ward ex­penses and the salar­ies of 147 em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing that of Gard­ner, whose salary, bonus and other com­pen­sa­tion to­taled $541,051 in 2018, ac­cord­ing to records the com­pany filed with the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

Gard­ner has taken a 44% pay cut, Jobe said, and other top staffers have taken fur­lough days. He said the agency laid off 20% of its ad­min­is­tra­tive and con­struc­tion trades staffers early in the pan­demic along with 40% of sea­sonal work­ers and is look­ing at ad­di­tional cuts.

Le­gal re­stric­tions on lay­offs in­volv­ing jobs tied to PPP money ex­pire Oct. 1.

Some op­er­a­tions at the pier could open sooner than the over­all fa­cil­ity.

Chicago Shakespear­e The­ater, which op­er­ates at the pier, said Tues­day it will move ahead with plans to re­open in early 2021 as soon as it can safely do that.

“Navy Pier has com­mit­ted to part­ner­ing with the the­ater to en­sure a seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence for Chicago Shakespear­e pa­trons dur­ing this clo­sure,” ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Criss Hen­der­son said.

“Every­thing we do will be pred­i­cated on the safety of our au­di­ences,” Hen­der­son said.

The the­ater is an­nounc­ing its lineup for 2021 next week, which Hen­der­son said will be an in-per­son and on­line hy­brid us­ing all three of its per­for­mance spa­ces.

Jobe said de­vel­op­ers of the pier’s first ho­tel have ex­pressed in­ter­est in a Novem­ber open­ing re­gard­less of whether other at­trac­tions are open. The 222-room ho­tel is to be part of Hil­ton’s Cu­rio Col­lec­tion brand.

“If the ho­tel’s de­vel­op­ers see a need to open in win­ter and in a pan­demic, we will ac­com­mo­date that,” Jobe said.

Robert Habeeb, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Mav­er­ick Ho­tels & Restau­rants, the Chicago de­vel­oper of the prop­erty, said crews are work­ing to­ward a Nov. 1 open­ing. He said start­ing a ho­tel at an empty pier might be some­thing he must do to meet re­quire­ments of his fran­chise and loan agree­ments.

“We’re look­ing into that right now,” Habeeb said.

Navy Pier Inc.’s pro­jected $20 mil­lion deficit com­pares to last year’s $60 mil­lion in rev­enue. More than 80% of the money it makes is tied to tourism, which has been se­verely re­duced by the pan­demic and travel curbs. Those sources in­clude at­trac­tions such as the Fer­ris wheel, rent from ten­ants, park­ing and events.

Asked whether the deficit will end up deeper than $20 mil­lion, Jobe said, “That’s what we are pro­ject­ing at the mo­ment.”

Navy Pier Inc. said it has given rent re­lief to ten­ants in hopes they can re­turn.

‘‘WE’RE AT THE MERCY OF THE PAN­DEMIC.” CORY JOBE, Navy Pier’s vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions

PAT NABONG/SUN-TIMES

Navy Pier of­fi­cials said Tues­day the lake­front at­trac­tion will close Sept. 8.

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