Winter Adds to Pier Pressure
With fall in the air and temperatures beginning to drop, Navy Pier is beginning to brace itself for the long winter ahead. "It's gonna be a hard time for us," says Keith Malick, assistant general manager in charge of marketing and entertainment at the pier. Malick, whose resume includes ten years at the Walt Disney Company in Orlando, Florida, admits the pier isn't likely to draw the huge numbers of visitors it did during last summer's record-breaking heat wave. Though he doesn't know exactly how many people visited the pier over the summer--theme parks can count ticket stubs, but Navy Pier has no admission fee--he does know that 500,000 people have paid $2 to ride the Ferris wheel since it opened in late June.
The pier's marketing manager also has no real sense of how many locals have visited the pier and how many tourists. "We are still trying to find out who our 'real' guest is," says Malick. (No doubt because of his many years at Disney, Malick invariably refers to pier visitors as "guests.") "A certain number of people go once because it's new, and they just want to see what's there," says Malick, who'll soon begin passing out surveys to collect some hard data about who's coming to the pier, why they're coming, and what they think of the facility.
In the meantime Malick isn't assuming Chicagoans will come to the pier during the bleakest winter months just because it's there; he's planning to make the $190-million complex a desirable destination regardless of the weather. The Chicago Children's Museum, which opens its new facility this weekend, and the Imax movie theater in the Family Pavilion will provide ongoing reasons to visit. Though the Ferris wheel will shut down for the winter on Halloween, an ice rink adjacent to it opens November 18, and Malick is organizing a series of festivals to keep Chicagoans interested in the pier. "We're going to need a certain amount of traffic for the restaurants and retail tenants," he says, adding, "This will be an event-driven marketing plan." In addition to a Halloween festival and a so-called heritage festival, which will spotlight entertainment from many of the city's neighborhoods, he plans to stage a country fair in the pier's exhibition halls and to cover the pier in lights around the holidays, to match those along North Michigan Avenue. Malick is also scheduling concerts; throughout the winter the Navy Pier Pops Orchestra will perform in the grand ballroom at the pier's east end.
Restaurateurs and retailers who've invested, along with the city and the state, in Navy Pier are watching what Malick does with great interest. "The pier is still a work in progress," says Joe Carlucci, who opened a Charlie's Ale House on the pier in July. Carlucci says he's been serving as many as 300 lunches a day in recent weeks, mostly to Loop business types. Cathy Newton, the proprietor of Widow Newton's Tavern, says "We're getting a lot of neighborhood residents." But the winter will undoubtedly prove more of a struggle for the eclectic mix of retailers who are selling everything from sunglasses to stuffed animals to Illinois-made handcrafts in the Family Pavilion at the entrance to the pier. Barbara's Bookstore opened a small store on the pier this summer, and Pat Peterson, who resigned last Friday as Barbara's general manager, says retailers there harbor no illusions about the winter ahead: "None of us came here expecting to make our profit based on business during the winter months."
Joffrey Chicago Touches Down
Most of the 30 dancers who will henceforth be known as the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago arrived at O'Hare International Airport last Friday afternoon. A "welcome weekend" of activities for the dancers and their artistic director Gerald Arpino included dinners at Tuttaposto and the Big Bowl Cafe, a boat ride on the Chicago River, and a tour around the Loop on the el. Before their first day of rehearsals on Tuesday, the dancers also got their own private tour of the Art Institute's Monet exhibition. Since the Joffrey's offices and rehearsal facilities at 70 E. Lake won't be ready until November, the company will rehearse at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, 1010 W. Chicago.
Rosemont Theatre: Same Old Song and Dance
The new Rosemont Theatre officially opens Thursday, October 12, with a weekend of Barry Manilow concerts, to be followed later in the month by a weeklong run of Cats. Tried-and-true shows are likely to be the only ones presented at the Rosemont, at least as long as New York-based Pace Theatricals is managing and booking the theater. Even though Pace and Fox Theatricals are coproducing the current national tour of the musical thriller Jekyll & Hyde, Pace opted to bypass the 4,200-seat Rosemont and book the show into the 2,000-seat Shubert Theatre downtown. Pace's Gary Gunas says the decision was based in large part on a concern that the unfamiliar new musical might wind up playing to a lot of empty seats at the Rosemont. "We felt it might be overreaching to put it in there," says Gunas, adding that the show isn't touring with the kind of star who generates big box office. Jekyll & Hyde is scheduled to run at the Shubert January 16 through 28.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.