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Navy Pier FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Navy Pier’s nonprofit status, governance, funding sources & commitment to transparency

Navy Pier FAQ

Navy Pier is operated by Navy Pier, Inc. (NPI), which is a non-governmental, independent nonprofit organization similar to operators of other museums, zoos and cultural institutions in Chicago. Navy Pier has always been a civic space designed and operated to connect communities across the city, state and globe.

NPI was established as a nonprofit organization in 2011 based on the recommendation of the Urban Land Institute, itself an independent nonprofit organization, which represents the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world.

Is Navy Pier operated by the city?

No. The decision to create NPI removed the Pier’s operational burden from city and state taxpayers and provided a dedicated steward focused on the mission of developing Navy Pier as the “People’s Pier” to promote culture, education and the arts. It also enabled new opportunities for non-tax supported, private fundraising efforts led by a volunteer board of civic leaders.

NPI provides the Chicago community with more than 250 free annual arts and cultural programs each year through the generous support of philanthropic, individual, foundation and corporate donors. The remainder of NPI’s revenue, representing 90% of its budget, is earned from operations including parking, event, convention and banquet business, tenant leasing and attraction ticket sales.

Does Navy Pier receive public funding?

Unlike many other Chicago nonprofit institutions that steward publicly owned property, NPI does not currently have an endowment on which to rely. It receives virtually no taxpayer funding from the city or state—with the exception of modest tourism-related grants in 2019 and 2020, representing less than 1% of the organization’s budget. However, the Pier and its guests generate direct and indirect spending of $350 million (2017) and millions in resultant tax revenues annually.

What is the relationship between Navy Pier and McCormick Place?

NPI leases the Navy Pier property from the Metropolitan Pier Exposition Authority (MPEA), which also owns and operates McCormick Place, for $1 per year. In exchange for this nominal rent fee, NPI has committed to managing the operations of this more than century old property, typically drawing nearly 9 million annual guests. Since 2011, nearly $300 million in private investments have been committed toward improving the public asset, enhancing the Pier’s offerings and creating a world-class guest experience.

The MPEA still owns the physical property, but all operations and their associated costs are managed and incurred by NPI. At the same time, net operating revenues generated by NPI continue to be reinvested back into Navy Pier to improve and renovate the physical facilities, which remain owned by the MPEA.

When NPI was established in 2011, the 100+ year old Pier was in need of improvements and attention due to deferred maintenance. At the time, the MPEA provided NPI with $60 million in seed funding to immediately address these needs and begin planning for future upgrades. In 2013, as part of the city’s Elevate Chicago tourism initiative, the MPEA directed another $55 million in bond funding to be used solely on enhancements to their physical property. A full breakdown of how the $115 million was used to improve the MPEA’s asset can be found below.

In 2011, NPI received a $5 million, interest-free loan from the MPEA. Since then, NPI has repaid the loan with two separate payments of $2.5 million each. The first payment was made on December 15, 2014, and the second payment was made on June 11, 2015.

 Project   Actual Spending 
 Polk Bros Park Fountain, Plaza, Promenade  $19M
 Food Experience (South Arcade)  $38M
 South Dock (Pierscape)  $43M
 Capital Maintenance & Redevelopment Costs  $15M
 Total  $115M 

Before & After Photos



















How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Navy Pier? Is there a chance the pier might close again temporarily? Permanently?

NPI is committed to the City of Chicago, its residents and visitors around the world and will continue to execute its mission-driven cultural programs and serve its community, city and region to the best of its abilities. Unfortunately, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NPI experienced a devastating loss of $20 million in revenues in 2020 alone. The organization is now exploring a variety of potential avenues to make up that shortfall.

Our hope is that with support from Chicagoans and the generous donor community, we will close the budget gap left by the impacts of the pandemic and emerge from our closure in a strong position to advance our mission and serve millions of guests. We are also working to assess our past shortfalls and examine future opportunities that would ensure the Pier has alternative means of revenue, making it able to weather future challenges or closures.

Thanks to the generous support of Navy Pier’s dedicated board of directors and key individual, foundation and corporate donors, the Pier has secured more than $8 million in philanthropic funding to support its phased reopening in April 2021. Continued philanthropic support, coupled with easing of COVID related restrictions, will be critical to ensure the Pier can function at full capacity and prevent any future temporary closures, or worse, permanent closure.

Did NPI apply for assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)? Did it receive funding? If so, how much? How did NPI spend this money?

Like many other nonprofit organizations across the city, state and nation that had been financially struggling as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, NPI sought much-needed support and relief in the form of a PPP loan.

In April 2020, NPI received a $2.5 million PPP loan that was used to preserve the salaries and benefits of 55 full-time employees, retain and remotely train 170 part-time employees, hire union tradespersons to perform maintenance on the facility, and cover other allowable expenses, including utilities. This loan was critical while the Pier was temporarily closed and all revenues were halted from March 16 to June 9, 2020. Upon reopening on June 10, 2020, earned revenues were a fraction of what they would have been during a typical summer season.  As a result of the low attendance, gathering restrictions and government restrictions on rides and attractions as well as on events, and thus a lack of revenues, NPI was forced to significantly reduce its workforce and the compensation of remaining full-time staff.

In Spring 2021, NPI sought and secured a second PPP loan, which granted the organization $1.9 million to preserve the salaries and benefits of the remaining 17 full-time administrative employees, 12 trades workers, three part-time employees and the security team. The PPP was also used to help cover staff payroll and training for seasonal employees returning in anticipation of the Pier’s spring reopening, as well as part-time staff, returning union tradespersons and new, incoming full-time staff.

Upon NPI’s application for forgiveness of the PPP loan, it will be reviewed by its primary lender and the SBA to ensure compliance with the guidelines.

Furthermore, as committed partners to the nearly 70 small and local businesses that operate at the Pier, NPI made a concerted effort to reach out to each business and provide information and education on how they, too, could take advantage of the PPP loan and other government-based financial assistance programs. In addition, NPI extended rent relief to all of its on-site businesses during the Pier’s closure to give its partners the best chances of survival through the pandemic.

Our Public Partnerships

Unlike other institutions on public land, Navy Pier does not receive annual funding from city or county tax levies. Over the past two years Navy Pier has received five- and six-figure state and federal grants, including Illinois Tourism grants for tourism marketing and FEMA grants to support pedestrian safety and security. Navy Pier did not receive any grants from the City of Chicago during this time period.

2019  2020
City Grants $0 $0
State Grants $100,000 $130,226
Federal Grants $0 $294,707

How are NPI board members selected/appointed?

NPI’s board of directors is comprised of highly sought-after and well-respected civic and corporate leaders across the Chicagoland area and beyond. Board prospects are recruited by NPI’s executive leaders and existing board members through proactive outreach or recommendations. Prospects are carefully vetted and engaged in a comprehensive screening process that includes a thorough review of their professional background, experience, areas of expertise and other civic commitments. Finalists are then voted on by the board and formally elected to serve.

Additionally, as landlord, the MPEA Chairman and CEO, along with a third appointee from the MPEA Board, serve as ex-officio directors. NPI’s President and CEO is also an ex-officio member of the board.

Board members are volunteers, do not receive compensation, and are not politically appointed. Of the 14 original board members appointed upon NPI’s separation from the MPEA, only one elected member remains on the current 33-member board. Each board member brings unique perspective, strategy and experience that help to elevate the Pier and advance its mission as one of Chicago’s iconic cultural institutions.

In addition, Navy Pier has established an associate board comprised of distinguished mid-career professionals from various industries and disciplines. The Navy Pier Associate Board is a steadfast and energized group designed to support the Pier through fundraising, volunteer service and professional engagement—in a collective effort to contribute to Chicago’s recovery during this critical time.

Have any of Chicago’s Mayors or their administrations ever appointed any of NPI’s board members, executive leaders and/or staff members?

No. Neither the mayor, governor, nor any other political leader—past or present—have had any influence in the appointing or hiring of NPI’s board members, executive leaders and/or staff members. While NPI has hired team members who previously worked for the MPEA, city, state and federal governments, past connection to government bodies does not impact or influence their current work. NPI operates completely independently of the MPEA, City of Chicago and State of Illinois.

How are the salaries and compensation for NPI’s executive leaders determined?

NPI’s board of directors retains the services of an independent third-party compensation consultant to conduct and report on the findings of a competitive market analysis for the Executive Leadership Team and all NPI staff members. The peer group analysis includes both local nonprofit entities as well as a national representation. The consultant assesses market value for all positions based on the specific role, responsibilities and level of experience before providing recommendations to the organization to ensure fair, equitable and competitive pay in alignment with the compensation packages extended to comparable employees at similar institutions in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

The consultant also works with the board’s executive committee to develop an annual incentive plan extended to executive leaders to ensure NPI remains competitive in its offerings and is positioned to retain talent long term. The incentive program is based on specific goal achievement in the areas of Mission Advancement, Organizational Advancement and Financial Responsibility.

Does Navy Pier’s share information about its tax returns and financial records?

Yes. NPI is committed to transparency and accountability and has created a modern, robust and ethical governance structure that ensures all aspects of its operations are conducted with the utmost commitment to honesty and integrity. NPI regularly posts its annual tax returns (Form 990) related to its nonprofit operating status and annual audited financial statements on its public records page.

In addition, as an established nonprofit organization, NPI complies with all disclosure requirements. On Navy Pier’s website you will find:

Does the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) apply to NPI?

No, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to NPI as it is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and therefore, is not subject to FOIA requests.

How does NPI select its tenants (businesses that operate on the pier)?

NPI leases the Pier’s indoor and outdoor spaces across the 50-acre property to nearly 70 businesses, including its nonprofit anchors. Those businesses are predominantly comprised of small and local establishments, ranging from dining and retail to unique attractions and cultural institutions. Businesses interested in occupying a space at Navy Pier are welcome to submit proposals for the organization’s consideration.

NPI also engages in proactive outreach within the local business community and/or issues a formal request for proposals (RFP) upon space availability.

Proposal submissions are carefully screened to ensure that each business meets NPI’s mission and vision to be a world-class destination that provides access to authentic Chicago experiences and showcases the best the city has to offer. This goal was outlined in the Pier’s Centennial Vision framework, which was established shortly after NPI became a non-profit organization in 2011 and put into motion in the years leading up to Navy Pier’s 100th anniversary celebration in 2016. Since then, NPI has been thoughtful about partnering with businesses that align with its vision of presenting Chicago-driven experiences and ensuring the destination is representative of the city’s diverse neighborhoods and population.

NPI is also committed to prioritizing opportunities for BIPOC, LGBTQ+ and women-owned businesses. In recent years, NPI has become a proud partner of southside dessert staple, Brown Sugar Bakery; local mother-daughter owned chocolate shop, Kilwins; longtime Ravenswood gem, Tiny Tavern; locally and internationally celebrated chef Art Smith’s new comfort cuisine restaurant, Reunion; modern Indian-inspired clothing retailer, Fashion Bazaar; small jewelry and accessory shop, Nakomol; and more.

In addition to these businesses, Navy Pier is the proud home to three other nonprofit organizations—Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Chicago’s public radio station, WBEZ—which have served as iconic cultural anchors at the Pier for decades.

What happened to the businesses operated by the Phil Stefani Restaurant Group, such as Riva Crabhouse?

In June 2021, Navy Pier and Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants & Events reached a settlement following a series of court proceedings for rent owed by the tenant. The rent was paid according to the settlement agreement and the matter has been resolved. Phil Stefani Signature Restaurants & Events has since closed Riva Crab House at Navy Pier and ceased food, beverage and event operations for the Navy Pier Beer Garden and Crystal Gardens events.


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