CHICAGO — Seven years after the Chicago City Council first approved plans for a marina next to Navy Pier, the long-stalled project appears ready to set sail.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said developer Randy Podolsky.
Podolsky sued former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration accusing the city of illegally blocking the project, which was approved by everyone from aldermen to the Army Corps of Engineers. Lightfoot’s team said it had security concerns since the marina would be near the Jardine water treatment plant, which provides fresh drinking water to millions of people. Podolsky countered that boaters can currently get close to the water plant’s south side and the infamous Lake Michigan party spot known as the “playpen” is just north of the water facility.
Mayor Brandon Johnson’s administration has now settled the lawsuit and agreed to issue the required permits with some minor changes, Podolsky tells WGN Investigates.
When asked what changed, Podolsky responded: “Go figure. Welcome to politics. Welcome to Chicago politics.”
Podolsky praised Mayor Johnson’s team for finally lifting the brick off of a project that’s supported by Navy Pier leaders and is privately funded.
Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Adding a public marina facility has always been a long-term goal for Navy Pier,” Marilyn Gardner, Navy Pier president and CEO said in a statement. “We look forward to clearing the final approvals and beginning construction. It will be another jewel in our crown.”
The marina will be “transient,” meaning boaters can rent space for a day or more, but it won’t have permanent slips. There will be space for as many as 150 boats as well as support services and is meant to make downtown Chicago more accessible to boaters from all over the region.
“It is the pre-eminent location for any boater on Lake Michigan who wants to stop in Chicago,” Podolsky said.
The new marina is expected to be ready in the summer of 2025.
WGN Investigates first reported on the showdown that stalled the marina in 2022.
“The irony here is that if we were to install a marina it would make the north pier even more safe than it is today,” Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) said last year. “There’s nothing to stop you from driving a boat through there right now.”
Podolsky said his marina will require reservations that include credit card and driver’s license information to confirm users’ identities. There will also be a security station and surveillance cameras to address concerns about access.
“All I’ve wanted since the early 1980s is to see some boating activity near Navy Pier,” Podolsky said. “To be part of that – you have no idea how proud that makes me.”