Rusted overhead beams at Pritzker Pavilion not a safety concern, city says

“While this iconic structure remains structurally sound and safe, aesthetic improvements are needed to the coating,” the city said.

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Rust on the overhead beams at the Pritzker Pavilion on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 at Millennium Park in Chicago.

Some of the horizontal trellis beams at the Pritzker Pavilion are severely rusted.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Chicago is having a tough enough time overcoming its image as a Rust Belt city in decline. The uphill climb could get even tougher for the crowds looking skyward at Millennium Park’s showcase Pritzker Pavilion.

Some of the horizontal trellis beams designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry are severely rusted. They’re in desperate need of repair or even replacement.

In a statement, the city offered no estimate on the cost and timing of the repairs or who would pay for it. The city’s statement simply said there is no danger to those attending concerts at the Pritzker Pavilion.

“The Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) has been assessing the condition of the Millennium Park trellis over the Great Lawn. While this iconic structure remains structurally sound and safe, aesthetic improvements are needed to the coating,” the statement said.

“AIS will also do lighting and sound upgrades during the construction. Construction documents will be developed during the fall and winter and construction will be scheduled upon funding and coordination of Park activities.”

Some of the horizontal trellis beams at the Pritzker Pavilion are severely rusted.

Exposure from the wind coming off the lake has contributed to the rust forming on horizontal trellis beams at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Owen Ziliak/Sun-Times

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) was alarmed after seeing photos of the rusted overhead trellises taken this week by Sun-Times photographer Owen Ziliak.

He promptly alerted Rich Guidice, Mayor Brandon Johnson’s chief of staff, who assured Hopkins that structural engineers from the Chicago Department of Transportation who “specialize in metallurgy evaluation” were inspecting the damage.

“It’s severely corroded to the extent that really shouldn’t be present in a structure that isn’t that old. ... Corrosion sometimes can appear on the surface without compromising the integrity of the joints. Just because you see rust doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a risk of imminent failure,” Hopkins said.

“It is exposed to the weather in a unique way — being elevated right on the lakefront with nothing to break the wind coming from the lakefront. So, perhaps when it was built, some additional weather-protected coating should have been installed because it isn’t really that old where it should be in that condition. But, whatever it is, I’m sure it’s reparable. We fix bridges all the time that have gotten to a point of extreme corrosion.”

Hopkins said he has no problem with waiting until the next installment of Chicago’s multi-year capital plan if the work will get done before the next outdoor concert season.

“It is the crown jewel of downtown. It’s also frequented by tourists and that’s not the impression that we want to give tourists. We’re trying to get out from under the image of the so-called Rust Belt. Something like that is certainly counterproductive. It needs to be repaired — and sooner rather than later,” he said.

The Chicago Sun-Times was alerted to the damage by Jan Donatelli.

“Some of the overhead bars are severely rusted and in danger of permanent damage,” Donatelli wrote in an email to the Sun-Times.

Donatelli wrote that she had contacted the office of Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) “months ago” and that Reilly had “forwarded the matter” to the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, one of several city departments that oversee programming and maintenance at Millennium Park. But, so far, “no work has been done,” she wrote.

“Last year, most of the struts were addressed after I raised this [same] issue but, for some reason, two or three struts were left untreated,” Donatelli wrote.

In an email to the Sun-Times, Reilly said his office had spoken with both Donatelli and Transwestern, the commercial real estate company hired to manage Millennium Park, about the “rusted fixtures.”

The city’s Department Assets, Information and Services “will address the rusted fixture through a capital project, beginning Fall, 2023,” Reilly wrote.

Micah Lane, vice president and general manager at Transwestern, did not return calls.

Millennium Park has been Chicago’s quirky town square almost since the moment it opened in 2004 after construction delays and cost overruns more than tripled the original cost to $475 million. The City Council reluctantly agreed to use $35 million from Central Loop tax increment financing district funds for the project after a host of add-ons drove up its costs.

Chief among the add-ons were a new music shell and sculpture. Their weight required the city to shore up the structure beneath the park.

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