Messing about in boats

Now that the Oakwood Beach Comfort Station is finished (the sign actually calls it the 41st Street Beach House, which is a more sensible name — it’s closer to 41st Street, and “beach house” is easier to understand than “comfort station”), the city and park district are starting another South Side project: the 31st Street Harbor.

The staging areas near the existing beach and north of it have already been fenced off, and trailers for the stars and co-stars are in a fenced-off portion of the existing parking lot. A tug and barge are at the south end of the beach, doing some kind of work on the eventual breakwaters.

The project made sense in the context of the city’s Olympic Games plan for the lakefront, but with the Games a-goner and the economy taking a bite out of boating (every harbor I’ve ridden past this year has more empty buoys than I can remember seeing) you have to wonder if we need 1,000 more boat slips at a cost of about $84 million. The city says it was planning the harbor before the Olympics idea even came up, but absent the games the argument for it seems to be more money for the Park District.

On the other hand, before the recession, demand for boat slips was high, and the Park District made a lot of money off them. When the economy comes back, that demand probably will too. Hard to say how demand will be affected if the Asian carp threat winds up closing the locks on the Chicago and Calumet rivers, which a lot of boaters use to take their boats out of the harbors in the winter. Maybe that will be a side effect of the recent Supreme Court decision that struck down the city’s gun ban — heavily armed boaters plugging away at carp as they pilot their boats upriver for the winter and back down in the spring.

Also in the offing is the Gateway Harbor, planned for just south of Navy Pier. I’m not sure that any construction has started on that, but that’s supposed to add about 160 slips and cost about $40 million.

It’s not clear to me how much existing parkland will be nibbled away for new parking areas for the 31st Street Harbor. Or what the fuzzy area on the drawing represents where the lakefront path crosses the new access drive — underpass or an architect’s version of the “here be dragons” gambit of mapmakers?

Whatever the case, the area from McCormick Place to 39th Street is about to become a construction zone till late 2012. But the unbuilt beach house has already been awarded a liquor license, so there’s something to look forward to. Maybe the city should give one to the Calatrava Spire, too. We ought to get something out of that hole in the ground, even if it’s just a cold beer from some guy with a cooler. Or one of those carts the mayor wants to add at O’Hare.

One Response to “Messing about in boats”

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