Millennium Park – Things to do in Chicago, Illinois

The Millennium Park story is the story of the world-famous park in downtown Chicago’s heart. This iconic destination combines public art, architecture, and landscape. You can find plenty to see and do, from the crown fountain to the music pavilion. If you’re a local Chicago resident, you may already know that Millennium Park is a great place to visit.

Millennium Park – Things to do in Chicago, Illinois

Funding for the project

One of the unique aspects of Millennium Park is its financing. It was a huge undertaking, requiring $490 million in private and public funds. The city also issued bonds to help pay for the construction. Unfortunately, however, the project was plagued by design and management blunders.

The park was the brainchild of former aide Ed Bedore. It was built on an underutilized rail yard near Grant Park. Originally intended to be a simple green space, the project expanded in scope to include additional amenities.

Millennium Park from above
Millennium Park from above

In 1999, the City of Chicago issued $40 million in parking revenue bonds. This would be used to help pay for the construction of the park.

An update to the budget in 2001 revealed that the park would cost $270 million. This included the construction of massive structures over the parking garage.

Despite the initial enthusiasm, the project encountered numerous challenges. These included cost overruns, technical issues, and management problems.

Wrigley Square
Wrigley Square

There was also a controversy over whether or not the park benefited the taxpayers. Ultimately, the park was deemed a winner. According to one study, it generated $24 million in annual sales taxes and spurred millions of dollars in residential and commercial development in the surrounding area.

Another major feat was the formation of a public-private partnership. A partnership between the City of Chicago and Millennium Park Inc. allowed for using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds.

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Jay Pritzker Pavilion

The project was funded with the help of several philanthropic organizations. Significant funding came from Bank One, the Pritzker Foundation, and the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

Moreover, the City of Chicago financed the project with at least $95 million in tax money. The city also received an estimated $30 million in private donations.

Millenium Park Ice Rink
Millenium Park Ice Rink

Finally, the Millennium Park Foundation contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. This helped fund volunteer programs and various technical improvements. Currently, the park is under financial strain.

While the construction of Millennium Park involved a lot of public and private resources, the project was also plagued by some management and engineering blunders. However, the project made its mark as a landmark tourist attraction.

Exelon Pavilions

The Exelon Pavilions are part of Millennium Park. Architect Renzo Piano designs these structures. Their facades are made of limestone. All four sides of the buildings have photovoltaic panels that generate electricity. Using these systems, the pavilions are expected to generate up to 3840-kilowatt hours of power each year.

Northeast Exelon Pavilion
Northeast Exelon Pavilion

These pavilions also offer access to underground parking facilities. Each building is about 50 feet tall and features glass walls. In addition to the pavilions, Millennium Park has several other buildings, including the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the McCormick Tribune Plaza, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and the Crown Fountain.

Aside from the buildings, Millennium Park features various gardens and other architectural pieces. It also hosts a large outdoor concert facility, a restaurant, and eye-catching sculptures. However, one of the most notable elements of the park is Cloud Gate, a three-story sculpture that provides a unique view of the park. This sculpture is constructed from 168 stainless steel plates weighing about 110 tons.

BP Pedestrian Bridge, Millennium Park, Chicago
BP Pedestrian Bridge, Millennium Park, Chicago

Millennium Park offers many unique sights as the most extensive rooftop garden in the world. Some attractions include the BP Bridge, a snake-shaped structure that offers handicapped access.

Also located in Millennium Park is the Lurie Garden. It was the result of a competition held to design the garden. Many of the materials from the garden are displayed in the Chicago Architecture Museum. Several architectural models of the garden are available, too.

The Lurie Garden in Chicago's Millennium Park
The Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park

The Chicago Park District also has a multi-year reforestation plan to replenish the area. It was hoped that Exelon would contribute additional funds to develop the area.

Before the completion of Millennium Park, the area was a largely abandoned industrial area. After the park’s completion, the area has transformed into one of the most important tourist attractions in the city.

These pavilions complement the Art Institute of Chicago’s building wing. According to planners, the pavilions are the first in the Midwest to use electricity-generating curtain walls.

Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate is a sculpture created by the British artist Anish Kapoor. This 110-ton stainless steel art installation is located in Millennium Park.

Kapoor designed the sculpture as a way to interact with the skyline of Chicago. It also plays tricks with light. Initially, the sculpture was meant to be assembled offsite and shipped to Chicago in the final form. However, several challenges faced the engineers in the design of the piece.

Cloud Gate (The Bean)
Cloud Gate (The Bean)

A sizeable internal ring ties together the two ends of the sculpture. It’s connected to an external shell made of 168 stainless steel plates, each of which is a different shape. These plates are highly polished to produce a mirror finish.

One exciting aspect of the design is the omphalos. The underside is shaped like a concave chamber with a 12-foot-high central arch.

Cloud gate - Chicago, United States - Travel photography
Cloud gate – Chicago, United States – Travel photography

The main reason that this piece of artwork has gained a lot of popularity is that it allows visitors to feel the elements interactively. There are a variety of activities for visitors to engage with, such as interacting with the pieces on a pedestal or laying down their arms.

The interior of the structure is built using a series of flexible connectors. This system allows the piece to expand and contract with the temperature.

Cloud Gate was the most technologically innovative work that Kapoor created. It was created using a combination of computer technology and design calculations.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate

Eventually, the structure was completed at $23 million. The Millennium Park Foundation underwrote the cost.

“Cloud Gate” is a piece of art that has become a staple in Chicago. It’s one of the largest permanent outdoor art installations in the world.

Art installations

There are many art installations at Chicago Millennium Park. A work of public art in Millennium Park is the Crown Fountain. The fountain features two towers that are 50 feet high. Each of the towers has a water spout that flows down into the fountain. Water from the spout flows into the water basin and occasionally squirts out of the mouths of the nozzles.

Chicago - Crown Fountain - Millenium Park
Chicago – Crown Fountain – Millenium Park

In addition to the Crown Fountain, Jaume Plensa’s installation is in the Boeing Gallery South. It’s made of cast iron heads that appear to move.

For more information on the artwork in the park, visit the website of the Millennium Park Foundation. In addition, there are plenty of activities and free cultural programming.

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