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Navy Pier could be shut down, says private operator facing $20 million loss

With people staying away even since the popular tourist attraction reopened, Navy Pier Inc. says it’s ‘looking at full closure, partial closure’ — but not going out of business.

Business at Navy Pier has taken a huge hit because of the coronavirus. From $60 million in revenues last year, Navy Pier Inc. says it’s projecting a $20 million loss this year.
Business at Navy Pier has taken a huge hit because of the coronavirus. From $60 million in revenues last year, Navy Pier Inc. says it’s projecting a $20 million loss this year.
Dale Bowman / Sun-Times

Navy Pier Inc. said Monday it expects to lose $20 million this year and plans to decide by month’s end whether to close the popular tourist attraction whose business has been devastated by the coronavirus.

But Payal Patel, a spokeswoman for the private operator of the government-owned pier, said the company “is not going out of business. Navy Pier is not going bankrupt. They’re looking at full closure, partial closure.”

Patel said the not-for-profit company has no plans to walk away from the pier, which it began leasing in 2011 under a $1-a-year lease from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, whose board is appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

The coronavirus shutdown orders closed the pier from March 17 until June 10, but the usual crowds have yet to return since it reopened. Many restaurants and vendors are open. But popular attractions including the Ferris wheel, the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater remain closed.

Patel said all are receiving rent relief — another hit to the pier’s revenues, which topped $60 million last year.

While the pier was closed, Navy Pier Inc. got a loan of nearly $2.5 million under the federal Payroll Protection Program to help pay the salaries of 147 employees, including Marilynn Kelly Gardner, the chief executive officer whose salary topped $541,051 last year.

Patel said Gardner’s compensation has been cut 44 percent and other executives have been given 33 percent cuts. Twenty employees have been laid off.

The company — whose board includes former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s daughter Nora Daley Conroy — had more than $57.9 million in debts at the end of 2018, according to records it filed with the Internal Revenue Service. It’s required to pay slightly more than $3 million on those this year. Patel wouldn’t say how it will make those payments.