“Doing so would ‘erode the wall’ at the street level, visually connecting the street to the buildings along it and creating a lively, inviting environment for customers and passers-by,” the report says.
The city also should consider a new space for performances and programs within a “public common,” by relocating the Department of Water Management’s service yard and redeveloping a firehouse south of Water Tower Place, according to the panel. The moves would create space for a public plaza east of the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Over the years, the Mag Mile’s center of gravity has shifted to its south end at the Chicago River, where Apple opened its glassy flagship store. To enliven the north end, the city could sponsor an international design competition for a bridge connecting the boulevard directly to the lakefront. The panel drew its inspiration for the idea from the “floating bridge” in Moscow, a V-shaped pedestrian structure that juts out over the Moskva River.
“A bridge that cantilevered over the top of the Magnificent Mile before turning towards the lake would offer a stunning view of the avenue and its historic architecture,” the ULI report says.
Mag Mile landlords could also coordinate their efforts to create distinct retail zones along the boulevard. Small-format luxury retailers could congregate on the north end, connecting to Oak Street.
The next zone south, from Delaware Place to Chicago Avenue, could become home to experiential attractions, like virtual-reality theme parks, immersive exhibits and other ticketed experiences. Mag Mile landlords have already taken baby steps in that direction, leasing space to concepts like the Dr. Seuss Experience, The Office Experience and the Museum of Ice Cream. Recruiting experiential tenants is one way the boulevard can become less like a shopping mall.
Large-format retailers could gather to the south, between Chicago Avenue and Illinois Street, with a “Chicago River Zone” connecting the Mag Mile to architecture boat tours and other attractions along the river.
Fixing the Mag Mile will take money. The City Council has already approved one of the panel’s recommendations: to create a special service area, or special taxing district, that would generate revenue to pay for various Mag Mile initiatives over the next three years. Longer term, the ULI panel is pushing for a business improvement district, a similar funding mechanism that would need state approval.