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Lawsuit aims to sink city’s objection to Navy Pier Marina

The project’s developer asserts Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi illegally blocked a permit over security concerns tied to the nearby water treatment plant.

A rendering shows the Navy Pier Marina, with the Jardine Water Purification Plant on the right.
A rendering shows the Navy Pier Marina, with the Jardine Water Purification Plant on the right.
NPM Venture

The developer of a marina planned for the north side of Navy Pier sued the city’s Transportation Department on Wednesday, disputing its finding that the project would pose a security threat to the nearby Jardine Water Purification Plant.

The suit said Gia Biagi, the city’s transportation commissioner, overstepped her authority when she blocked a permit for the marina. It said the project has received other government approvals and that the U.S. Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers have no objections to its placement.

Biagi cited “unacceptable security risks” involving the water treatment plant in denying the project’s permit in 2020, according to the suit. It was filed by NPM Venture, which in 2017 signed a 25-year agreement with the pier’s operating authority to build and manage the marina.

NPM is run by Randy Podolsky, a leading commercial property developer and a boating enthusiast who sees the marina filling a need for short-term docks allowing people to visit the pier and other attractions. His suit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, said the city has imposed no other security restrictions near the water treatment plant, an area that includes the party-boat hangout known as the Playpen.

The first hearing for the case was set for Jan. 6, 2022.

“Navy Pier Marina will improve security around the Jardine Water Treatment Plant in numerous ways including monitoring what boats come in and out of the north pier area, which is not being done now,” Podolsky said. He said Biagi’s “actions make no sense. Security is our first priority and we have reached out to the commissioner numerous times to discuss security concerns but have gotten no response.”

Kristen Cabanban, a spokeswoman for the city’s Law Department, said, “The city has not yet been served with a complaint and has no further comment as the matter is now in litigation.”

The marina would be right across from the water treatment plant in an area known as the North Slip. It could accommodate 150 boats, and one economic study said it would generate $10 million a year in city revenue.

Mariners who use the docks would be required to give boat registration or Coast Guard documentation, along with credit card numbers, all to enhance security, Podolsky said.

Since getting its license with Navy Pier, NPM has spent more than $1 million setting up for the operation, said its lawsuit, which seeks damages from the city.

The suit noted the Jardine plant opened in 1954 under a permit from the Secretary of the Army. It said the City Council adopted an ordinance for the project in 1951 that pledged not to restrict “the full and free use by the public of all navigable waters at or adjacent to the plant.”