Tourist Destination Navy Pier Projects $20 Million Deficit Due To COVID-19

Navy Pier
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Navy Pier
Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Tourist Destination Navy Pier Projects $20 Million Deficit Due To COVID-19

One of Chicago’s biggest tourist destinations is struggling to attract tourists.

Navy Pier has only seen 15 to 20% of its normal summer numbers — resulting in a projected $20 million deficit this year, according to a Navy Pier statement.

To compensate, 20% of Navy Pier’s staff has been cut and others were put on furlough. Executives took a 33% paycut, and President and CEO Marilynn Gardner nearly cut her pay in half, according to the statement.

Additionally, a hiring freeze was put in place, budgets were frozen and projects and investments were postponed, the statement read.

Navy Pier flourishes on pandemic impossibilities: Packed restaurants, boardwalks and shops with different keychains and shirts screaming “CHICAGO.”

From small ice cream stands to deep-dish ambassador Giordano’s, Navy Pier is Chicago’s glitzy, tourist-friendly jewel. The jetty and its Ferris Wheel are a part of the city’s image — nearly as famous as Willis Tower or the Bean.

Inside, you can catch an IMAX movie and Shakespeare play. Or dine at the most loudly Chicago restaurants like the Billy Goat Tavern and Harry Caray’s Tavern. There’s something for everyone: from McDonalds to high-class crabhouse Riva.

Outside, brunch, lunch and dinner cruises are popular in the summer. Offshore Rooftop and Bar boasts the largest rooftop deck in the country.

And after you eat, there are plenty of entertainment options.

For those with iron stomachs, there’s the high-flying, spinning Pepsi Wave Swinger. If you are looking to get wet, the Seadog will take you on a quick and splashy tour.

“The majority of revenues [are] earned through operational income, such as rent and fees from on-site partner establishments (restaurants, retail shops, cultural anchors, etc.), private events, consumer and trade shows, parking and ticket sales from attractions,” according to the statement.

The indefinite closure of popular attractions like the Centennial Wheel, Aon Ballroom, Festival Hall and Crystal Garden have been especially damaging, according to the statement.

“Additionally, the restrictive capacity limitations for many of our events, restaurants and venues have prevented the Pier from fully reopening and offering all of its iconic experiences, including the on-site cultural anchors, which have not yet reopened,” according to the statement. “The loss of those earnings has been devastating to the organization’s budget, resulting in a projected deficit of $20 million.”

Daniel Burham, the city’s most famous planner, dreamt up Navy Pier as a grand public space for his master plan for Chicago in the early 1900s. Chicagoans first knew it as “Municipal Pier,” until Navy troops and the Red Cross took residence during World War I. The name became official in 1927.

The Pier closed for renovations in 1994 but, since its reopening in 1995, more than 180 million people have visited the Pier: a record-breaking 9.3 million guests in 2016, according to Navy Pier’s website.

Despite the dire picture painted in the statement, employees at Navy Pier restaurants said Tuesday afternoon that they’re still managing lunch rushes and said to call back tomorrow. A Navy Pier spokesperson was not available for comment.

WBEZ leases studio and office space from Navy Pier.

Vivian McCall is a news intern at WBEZ. Follow her @MVivianMcCall.