Navy Pier Operator Considers Closing To Cut Coronavirus Losses

CHICAGO — Facing $20 million in projected losses, leaders of Navy Pier Inc. are considering to whether to shutter one of Chicago’s most-visited tourist attractions.

The coronavirus pandemic led to a 12-week closure for the publicly owned tourist attraction and a collapse in revenue for the private nonprofit that has operated it for nearly a decade.

“Our hope was that once we reopened, revenues would be restored at a more sustainable level,” Navy Pier officials said in a statement. “Unfortunately, that has not been realized.”

Some businesses on the pier have since reopened, and while some visitors have been returning to the pier’s outdoor public spaces, many elements of the pier’s business — trade shows, private events, theaters and museums — are still on hold.

“We rely heavily on these sources of revenue,” the statement said. “Furthermore, restrictive capacity limitations for many of our events, restaurants and venues have prevented the pier from resuming full operations and offering full experiences to guests.”

The operator does not plan to declare bankruptcy or go out of business, a spokesperson for Navy Pier Inc. told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday, but officials with the organization intend to decide by the end of August whether to close again for an unspecified period of time.

“They’re looking at full closure, partial closure,” Payal Patel told the paper. She later told Patch no decision has been made as pier officials explore options to preserve the pier’s long-term vitality.

In a statement, Navy Pier Inc. officials said the nonprofit’s CEO took a 44-percent pay cut from her more than $541,000 annual salary other top executives took a 33-percent cut. Many full-time administrators have been furloughed and managers laid off 20 workers last month.

The pier received a Payroll Protection Program, or PPP, loan of $2.5 million as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES, Act, according to the statement.

“While the financial impact is undoubtedly harrowing, our priority now is to continue to execute our mission-driven programs, maintain the safety and well-being of our staff, partners and guests, and serve our community city and region to the best of our abilities,” it said. “Our hope is that with support from Chicagoans and the donor community, we will emerge from this crisis restored, renewed and stronger.”

In 2011, Navy Pier Inc. leased the pier for $1-per-year from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, a legislatively created agency appointed by leaders of both the state and city, in a 15-year deal. The agency, also known as McPier, retains ownership of Navy Pier and also owns McCormick Place and a nearby hotel and sports arena.

The arrangement has allowed Navy Pier to be free from transparency requirements normally required of taxpayer-backed enterprises. After Navy Pier Inc. refused to comply with public records law in 2014, the Better Government Association sued, seeking to have it declared a public body. A Cook County judge ruled in favor of the watchdog group in 2018.

Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration diverted $55 million in tax increment financing funding that was supposed to go to blighted areas to cover the cost of renovations at the pier, according to a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and Crain’s Chicago Business.

The nonprofit’s most recent tax filing show it had nearly $78 million in liabilities at the end of 2018, with more than half of that made up of tax-exempt bonds.

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