20-May-17 – Rain did not keep Riverwalk vendors from opening, nor fish puppets from parading. While most Riverwalk vendors have been operating for weeks, at least on sunny days, May 20 was the day the city declared the Riverwalk open for business.
The opening day celebration included a free river cruise, walking tours, kayaking, fishing, boat shows, and music from a chamber ensemble comprised of members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
The offerings were arguably modest, as were crowd levels that started small but picked up as the weather improved.
At a dedication event on the Riverwalk west of Wells Street late Saturday morning, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said that over the next few months, as part of a city-wide public art campaign, artwork, sculptures, and light shows on buildings will appear along the Riverwalk. The 50x50 Neighborhood Arts Project, announced last October, will provide as much as $1 million for new public art projects throughout the city.
The money comes from funds all 50 aldermen have at their disposal to spend on public art in their wards, and what they each spend will be matched, up to $10,000, by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
Mayor: Riverfront is city’s ‘back yard’
Emanuel says Chicago is “way ahead” of other cities – on the Great Lakes and throughout the world – trying to remove industry from their waterfronts and make them urban parks.
“The City of Chicago, with this Riverwalk has really created another, second waterfront,” said Emanuel. “We are unique as a city, with two different waterfronts, [Lake Michigan] obviously our front door and now [the Riverwalk is] what I call our back yard into our neighborhoods and communities that unite the city both to the north and south.”
More teasing of San Antonio River Walk
“Let’s be honest. In San Antonio, they have a creek. Here in Chicago, we have a river,” mused Emanuel, pointing to the Chicago River. “This is what a river looks like.”
The mayor continued with ribbing started by 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly of the San Antonio River Walk, a network of walkways along the banks of the San Antonio River in Texas. At a meeting of Streeterville Organization of Active Residents on April 3, Reilly was hopeful new design guidelines would keep the Chicago Riverwalk from being “turned into a San Antonio River Walk, which is cheap and crappy-looking.”
The comment, published nearly four weeks later by Loop North News, was read by a television station in San Antonio and eventually The Dallas Morning News, which defended the River Walk in an editorial on May 12.
“This aggression will not stand,” read the editorial, most likely tongue-in-cheek. “The San Antonio River Walk is where you go when your shopping list consists of a Don’t Mess with Texas shot glass, a Spurs jersey, and a coonskin cap.”
But evenings on the River Walk, said the newspaper, bring back fond memories for Texans.
“The warmth of the Spanish architecture and the ease of conversation with other travelers remind us of childhood vacations and school field trips. Dancing under the stars on a one-too-many-margaritas night, hearing tall tales of long-ago river barge drivers racing their boats until dawn, watching people from all over the world enjoy our river – it all brings back the feeling that good luck and health and beauty and Texas will last forever.”