The neighborhood surrounding Daley Bicentennial Plaza has changed a great deal since the plaza was built in 1976, and when the city needed to completely remove the plaza to renovate the parking garage underneath it, the Chicago Park District saw an opportunity to redefine the space.
"The Chicago Park District's goal for this site was to create a world-class, multifunctional park and develop landscape experiences that reflect the evolving open space needs of the city," says Nichole Sheehan, a project manager with the Chicago Park District.
Opened: November 2014
Visitors (est. between March and mid-July): 267,041
The six play areas that comprise the Play Garden: Slide Crater, Wave Lawn, Enchanted Forest, The Harbor, The Sea and The Watering Hole
Construction of Maggie Daley Park began in 2012 and celebrated its official dedication this summer, though the park has been put to the test through a series of soft openings since last fall. Planning for the project began long before, as the park department and Brooklyn, N.Y.-based landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. aimed to develop a vision for the $60 million park that captured the needs and desires of its users.
"Public feedback provided important input into the design principles and programming ambitions," Sheehan says. "The public suggested activities that would extend the usefulness of the park into the wintertime, as well as programming for children, and the introduction of new types of individual sports."
These desires informed three of the park's main attractions: the ice ribbon, one of only a handful of such attractions in the United States, and the longest; a play garden featuring six different themed areas targeting different age groups; and a climbing area, the city's first and only outdoor climbing park.
Opened: May 2015
Visitors (as of mid-July): 5,154
Capacity: 10 to 25 climbers/hour
Fun fact: The climbing structures were designed to enclose the ice ribbon's refrigeration system.
"The inclusion of the ice skating ribbon was intended to be dramatically different from typical civic ice rinks, offering an experientially rich multisensory activity integrated into the landscape and the city," Sheehan says, "and the climbing wall provides opportunities for different skill levels."
The climbing park was undoubtedly the summer's main attraction. Encompassing 19,000 square feet of climbing space and reaching heights of 40 feet, it is touted as one of the largest public outdoor climbing structures in the world. Designed by Entre-Prises USA of Bend, Ore., the walls offer routes not only for varying levels of expertise, but physical ability, as the walls are capable of hosting adaptive climbing events.
Opened: December 2014
Capacity: 700 skaters/hour
Twitter handle: @MDPZamboni
While the park is an overall success, there have been some unanticipated programming changes along the way. The ice ribbon, designed by St. Paul-based design firm Stantec, proved to be a popular attraction during its first season for tourists and locals alike — perhaps a little too popular. "If there were any challenges, it was originally underestimating the popularity of the skating rink," Sheehan says. "There are often long wait times."
Contributing to the long wait times was the need to close down the ribbon every 90 minutes to smooth out the ice. Within weeks of opening, a Twitter account had been set up for the ice resurfacer, @MDPZamboni that visitors can check for updates and information about delays.
Additionally, plans to allow summer inline skating for kids was expanded to include all ages following public feedback. Another change that left some residents sour was the decision to ban dogs from the park, citing potential damage to grass, which is expected to see its fair share of human foot traffic.
Despite these unanticipated adjustments, and any that are still to come, Sheehan says the park district is very happy with the results. "We have had an overwhelmingly positive response to the design of Maggie Daley Park," she says. "We've had quite a bit of interest from other cities, park districts and recreation providers."
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Daley Exercise"