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Daley Bicentennial Plaza revamp to bring more recreation to Grant Park

Artist rendering possible plan for Daley Bicentennial Park looking north from Grant Park.

Artist rendering of a possible plan for Daley Bicentennial Park, looking north from Grant Park.

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Grant Park Meeting

Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011

6 p.m.- 8 p.m.

Gold Room of the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, 200 N. Columbus

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Updated: January 8, 2012 10:35AM

The north end of Grant Park would be transformed from a square, flat and very formal green space into a lawn with gently rolling hills, providing views of Lake Michigan and Buckingham Fountain.

That’s according to preliminary designs to be released at a meeting Wednesday night, when the public will get its first glimpse of how the planned multi-million-dollar overhaul of Daley Bicentennial Plaza is taking shape.

The New York design team — hired by the Chicago Park District — put together a series of renderings and photos after residents piped up during public hearings about how they didn’t want another Millennium Park, which sits to the west.

Instead, residents asked for a space to exercise, picnic and even bring their children when they want to get away from downtown’s concrete jungle.

“Millennium Park is one of the most successful new urban parks in the world, but it’s more structured,” with a concert venue and some larger-scale public art, said Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, who has been privy to the designs. “This is more nature focused and more recreation focused.”

The Sun-Times also got a peek Tuesday at the preliminary designs to be displayed Wednesday, which include plenty of green space along the 20-acre stretch and a modern take on recreation, including a meandering ice skating “ribbon” — the length of two laps around the traditional oval rink there today – that could stretch around tree groves and even a hot chocolate stand.

The ribbon could be turned in to a walking or exercise path in warmer weather. Along with climbing walls and soft-surface lots for kids to learn to trike, bike and even skateboard, playground “towers” would be constructed to help exercise a child’s body and brain.

“What came across in the community meetings is people wanted lots of areas to play — and not just for the physical challenge, but a sensory experience, dealing with light and sounds,” said Gia Biagi, park district planning director.

The overhaul was initially triggered by a controversial plan to build a Children’s Museum in the park, but in October Biagi told those gathered at a public hearing “they’re not coming to Grant Park” drawing applause from some neighbors who didn’t want to see the museum go up in the park or the vehicle traffic it would draw.

The overhaul of the park, bounded by Columbus and Lake Shore Drive, Randolph and Monroe, is moving ahead since it will be dug up next fall to repair a leaky roof over an underground garage. While there isn’t a firm pricetag, the park district will look to the $35 million set aside in a deal to lease the municipal underground garage to a private firm.

Building hills over a parking garage sounds like tricky business, but Biagi explained that “light materials” made of soils and foam will be used to construct them.

“That’s how you build things like this on top of a structure,” she said.

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