The Illuminarium will operate as a venue, presenting multiple shows and environments for different events.
A plan to replace the historic Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier with a “digital entertainment experiencecalled the luminarium drew backlash from Chicagoans.
For more than 20 years, Crystal Gardens at Navy Pier has served as a space where Chicagoans and tourists alike can immerse themselves in a tropical environment. The one-acre garden is free to the public and features more than 80 palm trees, accompanied by a wide array of greenery under a 50-foot vaulted ceiling.
The recent closure of the gardens follows losses of income during the pandemic, which the president of Navy Pier describe as “devastating”. In 2021, the pier operated with a $20 million deficit expected and temporarily closed. A Navy Pier spokesperson said CNN“It is the responsibility of the organization to develop attractions that support Navy Pier’s maintenance, viability and programmatic offerings.”
Their solution: the Illuminarium, a 32,000 square foot “entertainment experience” that uses theatre, film and special effects to allow attendees to immerse themselves in a variety of synthetic environments. Specifically, it can simulate different environments and locations, allowing participants to interact with these simulations. It functions as a venue, presenting multiple shows and environments for different events. Unlike Crystal Gardens, the Illuminarium will likely require an entry fee, similar to a Existing Illuminarium in Atlanta that charges $30 to $50 per customer.
Chicagoans like Céline Wysgalla mourn the loss of Crystal Gardens, feeling stripped of a place that gave them joy and happy memories.
Wysgalla is also an activist who advocates for keeping the Crystal Gardens. For her, the gardens are vital, as they are one of the three largest indoor green spaces in Chicago.
She told The Maroon that she was working against “diminished access to green space, especially in the cold months when it’s hard to be outdoors in parks.” She also fears a “decreased accessibility of the pier to residents and visitors, especially those from low-income communities.”
Wysgalla is concerned about the impact of replacing a green space.
“Gardens provide a chance to interact with nature and increase your appreciation of the natural world. There’s nothing like Crystal Gardens in Chicago, and it’s one of the very few free indoor green spaces available to residents of this community,” she told CNN.
“There should be room for an Illuminarium elsewhere on the pier…There’s no reason Illuminarium and Crystal Gardens can’t co-exist,” she told The Maroon.
A Navy Pier spokesperson responded to Wysgalla’s concerns about the deprioritization of nature, Write to The Columbia Chronicle that Navy Pier still operates the Polk Bros park, demonstrating its commitment to nature. Alan Greenberg, CEO of Illuminarium Experiences, promised “immersive, socially conscious and educational digital shows.”
The fate of Crystal Gardens appears to be in jeopardy, but only time will tell what will happen. For now, Navy Pier plans to open the Illuminarium in 2023, without the Crystal Gardens next door.