Did you know that the Chicago Riverwalk is hosting a blow-out week-long celebration May 13–20, 2019 with discounts, freebies and more? What better place to kick off summer in Chicago then at our award-winning Riverwalk? The pedestrian-only pathway will be hosting a week-long celebration to mark the beginning of the season from May 13 – 18. Highlights include a lantern procession, live music, free walking tours, a fireworks display and more.
In recent years, the Chicago Riverwalk has transformed into a humming hub for art, dining, and recreation in the heart of downtown. Visitors and locals alike flock to the river’s banks all year long for waterfront dining, original public art, boating and kayaking, and much more.
DIDJA KNOW? The riverwalk has six distinct sections, all that have a name?
Each has its own nickname, urban landscape and activities:
- The Marina (State to Dearborn)
The Marina Plaza connects the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and its new Riverwalk additions to the west. Here, docking boaters and strollers find a bevy of restaurants, as well as great seats from which to enjoy views of the Chicago River.
- The Cove (Dearborn to Clark)
Stop for a snack or rent a kayak right along the waterfront.
- The River Theater (Clark to LaSalle)
This urban oasis, with trees growing from the steps, provides shade and a unique respite for city explorers.
- The Water Plaza (LaSalle to Wells)
This sunny cove is great for families. Adults can relax around a fountain while the little ones romp in its jubilant sprays.
- The Jetty (Wells to Franklin)
The Jetty provides an educational component, where visitors can observe fish and learn about river ecology.
- The Riverbank (Franklin to Lake)
Surrounded by floating gardens, The Riverbank provides stunning views of the confluence of the three branches of the Chicago River.
Here is the line up for the week:
MONDAY, MAY 13
New public art: All season long
CHECK OUT ALL THE ART: ALL DAY
Check out the unveiling of the Riverwalk’s newest public art. This latest addition was created by Ebony G. Patterson, a multimedia artist known for work layering flowers, glitter, lace, and beads. Her series of five intricate and colorful banners will be displayed along the Riverwalk just east of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
You’ll also notice the vibrant pieces by Robert Burnier, which will remain throughout the 2019 season. These colorful, colossal works were specifically commissioned for the western Confluence section of the Chicago Riverwalk between Franklin and Lake Streets. Made of steel, mesh, and rope, the massive structures are visible from Upper Wacker and the river level.
THEATRE PERFORMANCES: 7 P.M. – 8 P.M.
In honor of the Year of Chicago Theatre, the opening celebration will feature performances by local theatre groups. You’ll be able to catch these outdoor shows on the western part of the Chicago Riverwalk from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.
LANTERN PROCESSION: 7:45 P.M.
As the sun begins to set, the glowing lantern procession will begin. Led by LUMA8, the same group that spearheads the popular Arts in the Dark parade each fall, the Riverwalk Lantern Procession will be an homage to Broadway in Chicago. Spectacular lanterns will illuminate iconic elements of classic shows, like Hamilton, Mary Poppins, The Lion King, Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, and Aladdin.
Tip: Can’t make it on Monday? Catch the lantern procession throughout the season as part of the Second Tuesdays at the Chicago Riverwalk.
ART ON THEMART: 8:15PM
Art on theMART, the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, will debut new work on Monday, May 13. The two-hour light display will illuminate the massive, river-facing facade of theMART and can be viewed from the Riverwalk and Wacker Drive.
During the opening celebration, you’ll be able to catch the latest installment of the multi-part projection piece by John Boesche in honor of the Year of Chicago Theatre. You’ll also see a new commission that uses data gathered from musical compositions by famed Chicago-based jazz musicians to create a real-time audio and visual experience. For the special May 13 presentation, speakers will be placed in the Jetty and Confluence areas to provide music synced up to the projections.
FIREWORKS DISPLAY FROM THEMART: 8:30 P.M.
- Pyrotechnic Waterfall displays: Check out this wonderful display on May 13 at 8:15pm.
TUESDAY, MAY 14
SECOND TUESDAYS ON THE CHICAGO RIVERWALK
Come out to the Chicago Riverwalk to experience the inaugural evening of the Second Tuesdays program. Expect live entertainment, discounts, and special programming from vendors including Tiny Tapp and Café, Chicago Brewhouse, City Winery, O’Brien’s Restaurant, and Island Party Hut.
Upcoming second Tuesdays in June, July, and August will also feature the Arts in the Dark Lantern Processions on the Riverwalk featuring local theatre companies in honor of the Year of Chicago Theatre. Processions start at 8:30 p.m. just east of Columbus Street and move west to the Confluence area between Franklin and Lake Streets.
ARCHITECTURE STORYTELLING: 4 P.M. – 5:45 P.M.
Join expert docents from Chicago Architecture Center as they share their favorite stories about the fascinating history of the Chicago River and its transformation from a commerce crossroads to recreation hotspot. Meet at the Riverwalk at Lake Street and Wacker Drive. Online reservations are required for a $3 fee.
WEEEKEND BLOWOUT: THURS, MAY 16 – SUN, MAY 19
FREE WALKING TOURS: 11:30 A.M. AND 1 P.M.
Head to the Riverwalk for free one hour walking tours with a knowledgeable local guide. Your Chicago Greeter will give you an insider’s look at history, architecture, and life along the Riverwalk. Meet a Greeter at the Plaza in front of the Bridgehouse Museum at Michigan Avenue and the Riverwalk.
FRIDAY, MAY 17
FISHING: 12 P.M. – 6 P.M.
The Chicago Park District will share a preview of their popular Fishing at the Jetty event. Kids of all ages can learn about the local ecosystem and the importance of the river through hands-on fishing activities. Now in its third year, the Chicago Park District’s free public programming will expand to three days this season (Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) from June 27 to August 17.
SATURDAY, MAY 18
ARCHITECTURE WALKING TOURS: HOURLY FROM 1 P.M. TO 4 P.M.
Enjoy free mini-walking tours led by an expert Chicago Architecture Center docent. Meet at the Vietnam War Memorial at State Street and Wabash Avenue to explore the riverwalk and learn about its history and design. Online reservationsare required for a $3 fee. Here is your chance to learn more about the Chicago Riverwalk through a FREE 45-minute, docent-led tour which will allow you to learn about the city’s newest and oldest skyscrapers. FREE tours take place on May 18 at 12pm, 1, 2, 3 and 4pm.
WWII MEMORIAL DEDICATION
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than two dozen submarines traveled through the Chicago River on their way to aid the war effort in the Pacific. This new memorial, developed by a group of Navy veterans, will commemorate the event at the east end of the Riverwalk. The time for the ceremony will be announced at a later date.
The mayor first announced the $100 million Riverwalk four years ago, and the massive project has finally reached its full potential. One of the best areas for gathering features a Tiki Bar, rest areas, fishing, and of course, beautiful views of the water & River North. Portions of the walk completed over the past year are separated into different aquatic-themed areas. The Riverwalk now runs all the way from Lake Shore Drive past Franklin to Lake Street.
The completed Chicago Riverwalk has become a great Chicago attraction and a world-class neighborhood asset. It has already begun to provide a dynamic new commercial space and an uninterrupted route from Lake Street to the lake itself for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Aside from the amazing architecture, landscape, and pathways—here’s a breakdown of each area:
The Marina (Between State and Dearborn)
- Multiple Restaurants & Vendors
- Upper Dining Terrace
- Built-in Bar along the edge
- Retail Space
- Public Seating
- City Winery
The Cove (Between Dearborn and Clark)
- Kayak Rental Retail Space
- Dock Space
- Human-powered Watercraft Area
- Flanders Belgian Beer & Fries, a Restaurant
The River Theater (Between Clark and LaSalle) Opened in early June 2015
- Access from Upper Wacker to Riverwalk Level
- Wendella Water Taxi Access
The Marina Plaza is one of the larger tourist attraction areas. Here you can eat, shop, grab a drink, or just relax while enjoying the water. The Cove is a bit different, as the focus is primarily on getting out on the River and having fun while cruising around. This is the main area for getting out on and coming back in from the river. Lastly, the River Theater is a passageway from the busy street of Upper Wacker to the peaceful Riverwalk.
Here’s a breakdown of three of the newer areas on the Riverwalk. These are:
The Swimming Hole (Between LaSalle and Wells)
- Primary Recreational Area
- Zero Depth Fountain
The Jetty (Between Wells and Franklin)
- Ecological Area
- Here you can learn about the Chicago River and what makes it tick
- Floating Gardens
- Fishing Piers
The Boardwalk (Between Franklin and Lake)
- Iconic Bridge from Upper Wacker to Riverwalk
- Surrounded by Floating Gardens and Landscaping
The Swimming Hole is a relaxing, tranquil area that visitors use to hang out by the river. It’s similar to the Marina Plaza but without the buzzing store action. The Jetty is focused on aesthetics and education. It holds small exhibits that detail the Chicago River’s ecological aspects, and there are floating gardens held loosely near the walk. The Boardwalk provides access to the Riverwalk from the West side, echoing the River Theater’s function. This is more like the Jetty in terms of its setup.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to complete the Chicago Riverwalk along the main branch of the Chicago River, which will build a continuous walkway and recreational amenity connecting the lakefront with the heart of downtown.
The design plans include conceptual ideas for each of the six blocks from State Street west to Lake Street with distinctive identities and purpose, thematically named: The Marina (from State to Dearborn); The Cove (Dearborn to Clark); The River Theater (Clark to LaSalle); The Swimming Hole (LaSalle to Wells); The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) and The Boardwalk (Franklin to Lake).
The bridges over the river establish a boundary between each block, which allow for each to have a unique identity and landscaping. Each block will be linked by the continuous walkway along the river, beneath each bridge. The design of the blocks has considered the previous feasibility studies and the changing operations of the waterway.
The Marina is designed to accommodate restaurant retail space and public seating. The River Theater will serve as the location for the vertical access between Upper Wacker and the Riverwalk level. The Cove may accommodate kayak rental retail space and allow for human-powered watercraft to dock.
The Swimming Hole provides a great area for recreation, which may include a water feature such as a zero-depth fountain. The Jetty is a location for learning about the ecology of the river, with floating gardens and piers for fishing. The Boardwalk will be the site of an iconic bridge bringing people from Upper Wacker down to the Riverwalk level. It will be surrounded by floating gardens and landscaping.
The plans reflect the build-out limits and general design of the entire riverwalk project which was agreed upon through a public development process in 1999. That comprehensive design work took place with the cooperation of the United States Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers and other waterway stakeholders – community groups, commercial operators and the recreational users of the river.
CDOT has been working on the Chicago Riverwalk since East-West Wacker Drive reconstruction began in the 1990s. The roadway was reconfigured to accommodate the expansion of the riverwalk to promote a pedestrian walkway and activate the space as a public amenity. The East-West Wacker Project included utility build-outs for the future riverwalk build-out for the entire length from Michigan to Lake Street.
In 2005, CDOT dedicated the Vietnam Veterans memorial west of Wabash Avenue. In 2009, CDOT completed the first phase of the Riverwalk build-out at Michigan Avenue and Wabash, which was funded through Tax Increment Financing.
In 2010, CDOT issued an RFP/RFQ for the team to finalize the design of the framework plan developed through the city’s Riverwalk Development Committee. In May 2011, the chosen design team of Sasaki Associates Inc., Alfred Benesch & Co., Ross Barney Architects and Jacobs/Ryan Associates began work on the design plans for the next six blocks from State to Lake.
As Mayor Emanuel is committed to finishing the final phases of the riverwalk, he has charged CDOT to find creative ways to finance the construction of the remaining six blocks from State to Lake. In 2012, CDOT submitted a letter of interest to the US Department of Transportation for funding through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance Innovation Act (TIFIA) program.
TIFIA provides credit assistance for qualified infrastructure projects, and is designed to fill market gaps and leverage other investment by providing capital. It is intended only for projects of regional or national significance. The TIFIA request includes funds to complete the design work from LaSalle Street to Lake Street, and the construction of the entire length of the build-out, which is estimated at $90-100 million.
Consistent with the City’s public-private partnership initiatives, the City will also pursue sponsorship opportunities for the ongoing maintenance and operations of the new riverwalk facilities.