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The Rahmwalk? Emanuel strengthens case to have Riverwalk named after him

The final stretch of the Riverwalk, from Michigan to Lake Shore Drive, opened Monday, and nine vendors will be in business there starting in June. | Cindy Hernandez/Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has privately told associates that, if anything in Chicago is ever named after him, he would love it to be the Riverwalk, the embodiment of his vision to create a “second waterfront.”

On Monday, the retiring mayor added to the case for renaming it the Rahm Emanuel Riverwalk.

With just one week to go before he leaves office, Emanuel proudly showcased a newly-transformed “Riverwalk East” from Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive paid for with $12 million from a general obligation bond issue.

The investment includes: 10,000 square feet of recreational spaces; 94 new LED “dark sky compliant” light fixtures; three public restrooms; roughly 150 new tree plantings from 35 different species and public seating for 500.

By 2020, the once-forgotten section of the Riverwalk will include Weather Station, a new piece of public art by the Chicago-based team Inigo Manglano-Ovalle and Bill Baker. A selection committee led by officials from two city departments — Cultural Affairs and Special Events and Fleet and Facilities Management — chose the work.

The final stretch of the Riverwalk, from Michigan to Lake Shore Drive, opened Monday, and nine vendors will be in business there starting in June. | Cindy Hernandez/Sun-Times
The final stretch of the Riverwalk, from Michigan to Lake Shore Drive, opened Monday, and nine vendors will be in business there starting in June. | Cindy Hernandez/Sun-Times

The 117-foot-tall Weather Station will have seven thin stainless-steel towers, each topped by a wind vane and anemometer (used to to measure wind speed).

Until now, Emanuel said, “we had a before-and-after Riverwalk,” because, “truth is, when people said ‘the Riverwalk,’ they went to the part” that already had been revamped with federal money.

“Today, when we’re all done, we’ll have one Riverwalk — 1.25 miles, the entire Riverwalk — will look and feel like one space. Not like a before-and-after.”

Construction for the last piece of the promenade began in December. With the addition, the Chicago Riverwalk will now stretch from Lake Street to Lake Shore Drive.

Starting in June, nine new vendors will set up shop in that final stretch of the riverfront walkway, including Justice of the Pies, Beat Kitchen and Gordo’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Nine vendors will be in business starting in June in the “community marketplace” on the final stretch of the revamped Riverwalk. | Cindy Hernandez/Sun-Times
Nine vendors will be in business starting in June in the “community marketplace” on the final stretch of the revamped Riverwalk. | Cindy Hernandez/Sun-Times

Several events are planned this week to help kick off the new stretch of Riverwalk.

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley only dreamed of creating a San Antonio-style riverwalk. With several false starts, he never managed to pull it off.

It was Emanuel who carried it over the finish line with help from a $99 million federal construction loan.

Chicago will still be paying that money back long after Emanuel is gone. But the retiring mayor said he has no doubt Riverwalk vendors will continue to generate the concession revenue needed to retire that loan, obtained under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

“It was 30 years at 2%. Every year for the last three years, we’ve run 40% ahead of best-case scenario. And we could, but we’re not allowed by law, pay it ahead of schedule by about 15 years,” Emanuel said.

With his wife, First Lady Amy Rule, joining him on a sunny spring day, Emanuel argued the Riverwalk has been a catalyst for development along the Chicago River, including sections not connected to the walk.

“You get a zero-taxpayer money project. The first-of-its kind-in-the-world Apple store. The largest Chinese investment in real estate in America. Five new office buildings. Six new apartment buildings. You have the [old main] post office that was empty coming to life,” the mayor said.

“We’ve generated — with zero down payment from Chicago taxpayers — close to about $4 billion to $6 billion in investment along the river. I’d do that trade any day of the week.”

Chicagoans out for a stroll Monday didn’t object to naming the walk after the outgoing mayor.

“I’m good with that. I love it,” said Allen Reed, 54. “I come here for lunch every day and … the fact he got this done is huge. It’s setting the city up for the future.”

Contributing: Cindy Hernandez