Navy Pier’s Private Practice

Privatization may be the next wave at Navy Pier. In recent weeks the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority has handed over two key concessions to private concerns. Standard Parking Corp., which operates facilities at McCormick Place, has taken over the pier’s parking lot, and Cineplex Odeon will now run the IMAX theater under a long-term lease. In both cases the changes will mean higher prices for visitors. But John Devonna, director of marketing and development for the pier authority, says the new operators will provide better service.

Parking has always been a problem at Navy Pier. Soon after it reopened last summer, the on-site parking garage couldn’t accommodate the crowds, especially on nice days. Devonna says visitors were directed to parking lots west of the pier or were encouraged to use public transportation. But many still drove all the way to Navy Pier’s entrance only to find its parking lot full, which created unwieldy traffic tie-ups.

The pier authority then decided that the best way to deal with the parking problem was to make it somebody else’s headache. Right away parking companies started lining up to take advantage of the lucrative nuisance, and Devonna says the field of candidates was narrowed to four firms after open bidding. Standard Parking eventually won the contract, and one of its first moves was to sharply increase parking fees. The pier authority had charged a flat rate of $8, but the new rates start at $6 for an hour or less, then rise to $10 for up to three hours, and top out at $16 for a complete day. Visitors who plan on spending at least $25 in one of the pier’s restaurants, however, can use a valet service for $7. Steep as they are, the new prices undoubtedly will discourage more visitors from parking at the pier. “We didn’t want the pier lot to become a haven for commuters either,” says Devonna. Standard Parking plans to streamline the operation in order to better monitor the number of available parking spaces. Signs will soon go up at key approaches to the pier notifying drivers if the lot is full. Devonna says that in the past these signs weren’t posted until the entrance to the parking lot, and many times the signs were up when there were numerous open spaces still inside. When the lot is full, Standard will operate shuttle buses to and from remote parking areas.

Navy Pier’s IMAX theater may become a more popular attraction now that it’s been taken over by Cineplex Odeon. Devonna is convinced the company’s “dominant presence” in the Chicago market will be useful in marketing the IMAX to the broadest possible audience. Promotional trailers will be shown at Cineplex Odeon theaters in the city and suburbs touting new 3-D movies at the pier’s IMAX theater, and the chain’s newspaper ads have already started to mention the current offering, Wings of Courage, a drama about French aviators making the first airmail flights into the Andes Mountains. But admission prices are higher. Prior to the arrival of 3-D, tickets to the Navy Pier IMAX cost $6.50 for adults and $4.50 for children. The new price is $8 for adults and $5.50 for kids.

Clued In

Commercial theater producers dream of landing the big hit that can run for years. In Chicago the greatest testament to longevity is the unsinkable Shear Madness, still catering to convention crowds in the 14th year at the Mayfair Theatre. Now two recent arrivals, Tom Chiodo and Peter De Pietro are primed to try their luck with Clue, based on the popular board game. Undeterred by the failure of a 1985 movie based on the same murderous amusement, the pair have decided to go back to a musical version of the parlor game. Neither Chiodo nor De Pietro, fortunately, is a novice in the theater business. For the past 13 years they have operated a for-profit New York-based theater company called Manhattan Repertory.

But for the last four years much of their attention has been focused on Clue. The show went through considerable changes between 1992 and 1994, including the elimination of eight songs and the complete rewriting of the book, which now has a brief spot calling for audience participation. Three composers ended up contributing to the final score. By 1995 Chiodo and De Pietro felt the show was ready, starting off in Baltimore, where it played to near-capacity houses throughout the summer. Then they planned to move the musical to Boston, but when theater renovations weren’t completed on time they had to scramble to find a new venue in another market, eventually settling in Chicago at the Organic Theater.

Chiodo and De Pietro have raised $250,000 for the Chicago production, much of it from a Boston-based entertainment company, DLR Entertainment Inc., and Wendy and Manfred Maschek, a Swiss couple the producer met through business contacts. The pair have dubbed their outfit CTM Chicago Productions and are hoping for a long open run if the show takes off. Should they wind up with a hit, Chiodo and De Pietro expect to start a new company in New York next fall while keeping the Chicago Clue up and running.

Star Crossed

Splinter Group is having some star troubles right before its ambitious fifth annual Buckets o’ Beckett festival. The company had hoped a roster of star directors and actors would entice audiences to the four-week event, which will feature 18 of Samuel Beckett’s 19 plays. But last week Splinter released a modified cast list, which included John Mahoney in Krapp’s Last Tape and Estelle Parsons replacing Piper Laurie in Endgame. John Larroquette, who was supposed to be in Endgame, was notably missing from the new announcement. A spokesman for the Splinter Group said Larroquette had dropped out early last week because of “other commitments.” Larroquette left the project too late, however, to be removed from a glossy flyer that was stuffed into last Sunday’s New York Times. The festival’s still scheduled to open April 25 at the Mercury Theater.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Randy Tunnell.