Skip to main content

The ever-changing and expanding Riverwalk has undergone another huge upgrade, further bolstering Chicago’s image as a “two waterfront city.”

By Jessica Cilella

Just in time for summer, the city announced the completion of a $12 million project that significantly enhances the easternmost portion of the Riverwalk, from about Michigan Avenue east to Lake Shore Drive. Chicago-based Muller & Muller led the design team and worked with local landscape architecture firm Site Design Group to reimagine the land, which had sat mostly undeveloped since being dedicated as a park in the 1970s.

“The project adds valuable open space, better pedestrian access to the river and seating to view  the natural asset in the heart of downtown Chicago,” said Ernie Wong of Site Design Group.

Here are just a few highlights of the recently completed work.

new food & retail vendors

One of the most exciting new additions is a new Community Marketplace that will open in June between Michigan and Wabash avenues. The marketplace will consist of several kiosks that will feature rotating vendors selected by the Riverwalk Committee, comprised of individuals from a variety of city departments. Minority and women-owned vendors were encouraged to apply and 23 were deemed qualified. Nine were selected for this first year, and they highlight existing vendors in the city’s culturally diverse communities.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how this program works,” said Michelle Woods, Assistant Project Manager for the Department of Fleet and Facility Management. “I’m excited about these vendors. There are some really dynamic and interesting businesses. If the program is successful, we might look at other locations on the Riverwalk where we can build other kiosks to include some of the other qualified vendors.”

Food vendors include Beat Kitchen on the Riverwalk, Batter and Berries, Chiya Chia, Gordo’s Homemade Ice Cream, Justice of the Pies, Luxury Cake and Twisted Eggroll. Neighborly and Shop Small Chicago will provide retail options from a variety of local artists and makers.


Just below the CAC—and above the dock for Chicago’s First Lady Cruises— are five bright and colorful banners featuring artwork by Jamaican-born visual artist Ebony G. Patterson. The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) selects a new artist each year whose work fills that spot.

Next year, installation of a new 117-foot sculpture by Spanish-born artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill structural engineer Bill Baker will begin, also near the dock. The “Weather Station” will consist of seven slender steel towers at varying heights, with weather instruments atop the towers.

Further east stands a new submarine memorial that commemorates  28 submarines manufactured in Wisconsin that traveled down the Chicago  River into the Gulf of Mexico to assist with World War II efforts in the Pacific.  A group of Navy veterans led fundraising for the memorial.


Some of the Riverwalk improvements are not outwardly apparent, but they’re still very important. These include several emergency egress ladders to assist with river rescues and new utility pipes to provide better power and connectivity.

New landscaping beautifies the area. Among the additions are approximately 150 new trees representing 35 different species and several varieties of the allium flower—the same plant Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet paddled  past when they explored the region in the late 1600s.

There are also nearly 100 new LED light fixtures that are “Dark Sky” compliant, three public restrooms, new railings and significantly more seating.

The Riverwalk had been a signature project for Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with the Riverwalk East unveiling happening just a week before his final day in office.

“Chicago is reconnecting with the River in a way that improves our quality of life, protects our environment and enhances economic development that is sustainable for future generations,” he said. “The completion of Riverwalk East  is a major milestone in that journey.