Loop Alliance Hopes New Seating Will Make Pritzker Park Stand Tall

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Stilt walkers perform at the Pritzker Park celebration. Photo: John Greenfield

Despite the dreary weather, two of the Chicago Loop Alliance’s new placemaking initiatives, the activation of Pritzker Park, located at Jackson and Van Buren, and the #CitySeats pop-up seating program, started off with a bang today. A lunchtime celebration of the park’s new café tables drew scores of people, who enjoyed free coffee, savory pies from Bridgeport Pasty’s mini electric food truck, and the sounds of March Forth, a raucous circus-punk marching band featuring dancing stilt walkers.

The CLA expects to spend $135,000 on placemaking projects this year, funded by special service area money and corporate sponsorships. “The whole idea of the placemaking program is that, for the Loop to remain a competitive place for business, it has to reflect what people want — and what people want is a high-performing public realm,” said Michael Edwards, director of the CLA, the Loop’s chamber of commerce.

He indicated the crowd grooving to March Forth’s rendition of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet. The Portland-based band performs tonight at Lincoln Hall. “What we’re trying to do is activate underperforming spaces like Pritzker Park, and you can see the reaction,” Edwards said.

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A food truck, seating, and Divvy bikes help activate a formerly ho-hum space. Photo: John Greenfield

One obvious reason that many folks haven’t chosen to spend time in Pritzker in the past is that it lacked a proper place to sit. The addition of seating for 40 to 50 people, in the form of large tables with umbrellas, small two-tops, and red plastic lawn chairs, is sure to attract more downtown workers and visitors. Throw in the Divvy station installed last year, along with plans for more food truck visits and pop-up performances, plus a vendor in the park’s currently vacant kiosk, and the park should turn into a truly vibrant public space.

Recent college grad Christian Pritchett said he was drawn to the park today by the sound of drums and horns, and the sight of people enjoying themselves. He said he’s hung out in Pritzker before, “But with the addition of the chairs, it feels like more of a park. People usually sit on the wall, but the chairs make it feel more lively.”

Today also marked the first day of #CitySeats, tables and chairs that will appear unannounced at different locations within the area bounded by Lake Street, Dearborn, Moroe, and Michigan. “The idea of the city seats is to surprise people, and show places where they can sit and enjoy the Loop,” Edwards said.

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#CitySeats tables at State and Randolph. Photo: John Greenfield

The seating will be available on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays throughout the summer from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The tables are labeled with the #CitySeat hashtag, and the CLA hopes residents will request new locations for the seating via Twitter. Today the tables were placed on the sidewalk next to the giant Walgreens at State and Randolph, but were getting zero use due to the drizzle.

A stone’s throw away in the median on State, between Randolph and Lake, is the recently reopened Gateway, a plaza with café seating for about 50 that stays in place all summer. This year, the Gateway will feature additional programming, possibly including music, art installations, dance and film screenings.

Rounding out the CLA’s slate of placemaking projects are the Activate events, which bring libations, art, dance music, fashion and live performers to various downtown alleys once a month from from 5 to 10 p.m. The location of each event is announced the month before on the CLA’s Activate webpage. Attendees who RSVP in advance on the site get one free drink ticket.

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Last week’s Activate event. Photo: James John Jetel for CLA

Last Thursday, the CLA staged an event in the alley south of the Chicago Theater, featuring art inspired by surrealist painter René Magritte, Rockettes-style dancers, and roller skaters wearing costumes covered with LEDs. Edwards estimates the party drew some 3,500 people. “So we’re thinking that Activate is workin’ pretty good,” he said. “There’s nothing like drinking next to a dumpster.” Upcoming shindigs take place August 1, September 17, and October 16.