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20-acre Grant Park site to feature hills, climbing areas, skate ‘ribbon’

Renderings proposed redesign North Grant Park. Play garden looking east.

Renderings of proposed redesign of North Grant Park. Play garden looking east.

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Updated: February 27, 2012 9:53AM

A flat, formal stretch of Grant Park will be transformed into an area featuring sloping hills and valleys and dotted with play areas and forested paths, final plans unveiled Wednesday show.

After many years of planning and much controversy, the public got their first glimpse of the design plan for the northernmost end of the park, an area known as Daley Bicentennial Plaza, when a series of renderings went on display in the pedway of Block 37, 108 N. State. They’ll remain there through next Tuesday.

The 20-acre site — which is connected to Millennium Park by a Frank Gehry-designed bridge — will be very different from its neighbor, one Chicago Park District official said.

“If you think about it, Millennium Park is very formal. It really has a lot of rooms,” said Gia Biagi, the district’s director of policy and strategy. “This area is much more organic with softer shapes.”

New climbing areas will feature different climbs depending on skill level. The areas are more natural looking than typical climbing walls, said Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy. A meandering ice skating “ribbon” will circle the climbing areas, which is far different than the square rink that had been on the property and a first for Chicago.

A skateboard park will sit in one pocket while a neighboring scooter plaza — which O’Neill says is another first — will be available for younger children.

“We were trying to balance a regional attraction with a neighborhood park that’s right there when you walk out of your building,” said Matthew Urbanski, a principal at the New York-based landscape architecture firm hired to work on the project.

Daley Bicentennial Plaza will be closed for two-plus years starting in the fall when the park will be torn up to make repairs to an underground garage below the park. Originally, a controversial plan to move the Chicago Children’s Museum from Navy Pier to the site was part of a re-imagined park space there. But the museum plan — thanks in part to lackluster fundraising for the project and the retirement of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who strongly backed the move — has been shelved.

Hundreds of mature trees will come down as part of the garage project, but the trunks will be recycled and reused for a curving wall in a children’s play area at the rehabbed park, O’Neill said.

A final pricetag for the makeover, which was the subject of numerous public hearings, hasn’t been announced, but the $35 million the park district received in a city deal to lease the underground garage to a private firm will be used for the overhaul. That figure includes the $4.2 million awarded to Van Valkenburgh Associates to design the project.

Biagi and others say fundraising is ongoing and it’s possible individual and corporate sponsors could have their names displayed in sections of the green space, as is the case in Millennium Park.

“We’re open-minded about it,” Biagi said.

Does that mean the area might no longer be named for Daley’s father, late mayor Richard J. Daley?

“We haven’t discussed anything like that,” Biagi said. “It’s Grant Park.”

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