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Daley Bicentennial Plaza to close for two years for revamping

Barricades still remaalong perimeter Grant Park North though is fully sodded open foot traffic Tuesday September 20 2011. | Jean

Barricades still remain along the perimeter of Grant Park North, though is fully sodded and open to foot traffic, Tuesday, September 20, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 28, 2011 10:21AM

A 20-acre chunk of Grant Park known as Daley Bicentennial Plaza, east of Millennium Park, will be closed for two years starting in fall of 2012 to make way for repairs in an underground parking garage and an overhaul of the park space.

Chicago Park District Planning Director Gia Biagi broke the news to more than 100 residents who gathered to hear more about a landscape architect’s plans to transform the park.

The plan calls for turning what one park advocate called a “formal park” into a space with meandering walking paths, a funky ice skating “ribbon” — rather than the traditional oval rink — as well as some rolling hills.

“This is a big and complicated project,” Biagi told residents, noting the first shovels will go in to the ground in fall of 2012, and work will last two years.

“That means summer 2013 and 2014 — that park is out of commission,” Biagi said.

Finished renderings and detailed plans weren’t released Wednesday night, but Michael Van Valkenburgh — who runs the Brooklyn landscape architecture firm bearing his name — told residents his design is coming together thanks to ideas voiced during a series of public meetings.

He’s working to incorporate those ideas — from a series of playgrounds with different activities for children to a network of bending paths that allow visitors to explore nature while still feeling like they’re safe and know where they’re going.

“You don’t want to be too mysterious at the corners, you want to see what’s ahead,” Van Valkenburgh told residents.

In 2009, his firm was awarded a $4.2 million contract to redesign the north end of Grant Park, which included landscaping over a planned subterranean Children’s Museum and attached fieldhouse. Controversy and the lousy economy stalled the museum and fieldhouse, and planners scaled back their plans.

The 2012 start date coincides with repairs to the Monroe Street parking garage below Daley Bicentennial Plaza. Considering the park will be torn up to restore a rubber water-proofing membrane next fall, park planners figured it was a good time to re-imagine the site.

Part of the project, including the design, will be funded with $35 million the park district received in a city deal to lease the underground garage to a private firm.

Final renderings will be delivered in the coming months, then the projects will go out for bid. Anyone who want sto keep up with the project can go online to

Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said he likes the plans because it adds a bit of whimsy to an otherwise “formal” park and will provide better lake views.

“Right now, it’s a very formal park,” O’Neill said. “With this plan, there will be meandering pathways through the park, and a lot of the emphasis...will be nature. There are hills that will open up vistas to Lake Michigan.”

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