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Sweet Home Navy Pier?

Chicago may be known as the home of the blues, but there’s never been a permanent space dedicated to its history, artifacts, and cultural heritage. That could soon change with the Chicago Blues Experience, set to open at Navy Pier in 2017.

WBEZ reported earlier this year that Navy Pier was the rumored future site of an interactive blues museum, but most details were unconfirmed until now.

“It’s high time that this attraction and celebration honoring Chicago blues happened here,” said Sona Wang, a venture capitalist and Managing Director of the Chicago Blues Experience.

Although the blues didn’t start in Chicago, the music found its groove on the city’s south side during the Great Migration. There, legends like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and others electrified the blues for labels like Chess Records on S. Cottage Grove and later S. Michigan Avenue.

Some local fans say that’s where a Chicago blues museum belongs. So why build one on Navy Pier and not where musicians actually lived and played?  

Because, Wang says, Navy Pier with its nine million annual visitors is the city’s number one tourist attraction.

“It’s foot traffic is unmatched by any other attraction,” said Wang, whose group is still finalizing the museum’s footprint at the Pier, estimated at being somewhere between 50,000 - 60,000 square feet.

Aside from a museum, Wang says CBE will have two music venues and a restaurant. The same company that produced interactive exhibits for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill. (BRC Imagination Arts) will also create exhibits for CBE.

According to Wang, more than 760,000 people are projected to visit the Pier for its interactive museum.

“The Chicago blues is an international brand that many visitors who come to the city come here hoping to and expecting to experience,” Wang said. “[But] that doesn’t always happen and isn’t as accessible as it should be.”

The numbers Wang referred to come from a study by the Anderson Economic Group, commissioned by the CBE to determine its economic impact for Navy Pier and the city of Chicago. AEG is the same firm the Obama Foundation used to bolster the case for building the Obama Presidential Library on the city’s south side.

A space at Block 37 in the Loop was considered at one point. Wang says they’ve raised most of the 45 million dollars for the project, but won’t say who the individual and corporate donors are. Nor is it known what kind of artifacts will be on display for visitors to see.

A spokesman for Navy Pier, which is currently in the midst of a major overhaul, confirms that talks are underway with the CBE. Pressed for more details, the spokesman said the Pier will not discuss any prospective partner until a deal has been finalized.  


Follow WBEZ reporter Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter @yolandanews

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