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What’s behind the battle brewing over a proposed marina at Navy Pier?


CHICAGO — Another boating season has come and gone in Chicago without so much as a pylon or a plank being laid for a proposed marina at Navy Pier, despite the fact the City Council approved it six years ago.

“One of the ironies for me is this is called the ‘people’s pier.’ This is our pier,” developer Randy Podolsky said. “The only thing stopping us right now is the same city that approved the marina to be built in 2016.”

Podolsky has received approval for the project at every level of government from the federal Army Corps of Engineers to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Chicago City Council. However, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration has refused to issue the construction permit.    

Podolsky said he has been told the project’s proximity to the Jardine Water Purification Plant, sparked unspecified security concerns. However, there’s nothing currently stopping boaters from accessing the proposed marina site which sits on the South Side of the plant just north of Navy Pier. The opposite site of the water treatment plant is also fully open to boaters and includes the raucous party spot known as the Playpen.

The alderman whose ward includes Navy Pier is a supporter of the project and puts the blame for its delay on Lightfoot.

“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. “There’s nothing to stop you from driving a boat through there right now.”

Podolsky’s proposal calls for what’s known as a “transient marina” meaning boaters would rent a dock for the night or a several day visit.

“We know the people will come,” Kyle Stenzel, project supporter of Spring Brook Marine Group, said. “We know the people will spend dollars and support local community restaurants and organizations. All we have to do is execute.”

The marina would require reservations, identification and boater registration information from users and would employ private security, according to the developer.

Podolsky is now suing the City of Chicago arguing the Lightfoot administration has “exceeded their authority” in refusing to issue his permit. He’s asking a Cook County judge to essentially force the city to do so.

WGN Investigates asked Lightfoot about the stalled project at a recent news conference, however she declined to answer questions citing the ongoing litigation. 

Navy Pier officials indicate they’re supportive of the privately funded project. 

“A transient marina has long been part of the Pier’s plans for development,” Navy Pier spokesperson Felicia Bolton said in a statement. “We await resolution of the litigation while continuing to explore ways to enhance guest experience and access with new amenities.”


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