$108 million Chicago Riverwalk set for official season kickoff

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Chicago was named the top destination for tourists by Conde Naste for the second straight year. | Provided/Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

Summer in the city has taken on a whole new dimension in Chicago, as the 1.25-mile Riverwalk prepares for its first full season as an outdoor destination.

The “official opening” of the uninterrupted promenade, which runs along the Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street, will feature a daylong celebration from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, offering a preview of the activities visitors can enjoy through October.

Celebratory activities will include Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tours; live music; life-size fish puppet parades; fishing demonstrations; a traveling music cruise featuring the Chicago-based Beats y Bacteria; the “Dance of the Bridges,” raising of bridges along the walk; and a boat parade; kayak rentals; a dragon boat exhibition race, and a pyrotechnic waterfall grand finale presentation at the Clark and La Salle Street bridges.

“Keep in mind the final development was not completed until October 2016, so for a lot of folks it was too cold to come out and really take in the entire” expanse, said Ann Hickey, director of program development for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. The tagline for the destination is “Escape and Embrace,” and Hickey said, “We want you to escape the every day and embrace Chicago from a different vantage point. Being on the Riverwalk is a very different way to experience the city and especially its architecture.”

The Chicago Riverwalk | Photo from Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The Chicago Riverwalk | Photo from Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The $108 million project, funded almost entirely through the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, is divided into six “blocks,” each boasting a different “river-based typology,” according to Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey. These include The Marina Plaza, with restaurants and outdoor seating areas; The Cove, with kayak rental and boat dock; The River Theater, with a sculptural staircase and seating area; The Water Plaza, with illuminated fountains and a water feature; The Jetty, with piers and floating wetland gardens; and The Riverbank, an actual walkway at the river’s edge.

In 2016, the 11 vendors on the Riverwalk reported 330,000 visitors, which generated more than $8.5 million in gross revenues.

For the complete schedule of Saturday events, visit chicagoriverwalk.us.

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