Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
What could go wrong with a proposal for a tourist-friendly cable car in the Windy City? The wind, for one.
Nothing feels as unpleasant as Chicago’s winter blasting your face in full freeze mode. A plan that involved suspending residents 17 stories up in the air in the howling wind could be rightly described as criminal. A gondola for Chicago? Attempted murder.
Chicago may go for one anyway. The Chicago Tribune reports that two local businessmen are pitching the city on “The Skyline,” a gondola that would run over the Chicago River. The city joins Brooklyn and Washington, D.C. in the elite club of U.S. metropolises flirting with a gondola.
At least Chicago isn’t kidding itself. Gondola proposals for both both Brooklyn and D.C. have been framed as linkages in a broader multi-modal transit network. According to the Tribune, the Skyline’s backers aren’t pitching it that way at all. Instead, the Chicago gondola would be a pure tourist draw.
If tourism is the goal, then there’s no better design team to assemble than the one that the Skyline’s backers have tapped. David Marks and Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield Architects, the firm that designed the London Eye, consulted on the project, according to the Tribune. Davis Brody Bond, the firm that designed the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York, also worked on the project. The renderings reveal glass-enclosed aerial cars that offer unrivaled views of the Chicago River, Navy Pier, and potentially Millennium Park, depending on the gondola’s route.
The proposal has been in the works since 2013, and its supporters say that it’s a workable plan for the city. The Tribune reports that the Skyline would cost about $250 million to build, and that it might be feasible to do so without any public financing. Some 3,000 people could take the half-hour-long tours every hour; all told, the gondola could draw 1.4 million visitors per year.
Gondola proposals have been met with scrutiny and ridicule everywhere else that they’ve been proposed. It’s hard to find fault with Chicago’s Skyline proposal, though (except insofar as there might be loftier ways to spend $250 million on the city). If private financiers want to put the money forward—with the city on the hook only for the land on which the gondola posts would be erected—what’s not to love?
The thing that sounds most suspicious about the proposal is that it would be open year-round. The idea that thousands or hundreds or even dozens of tourists would pony up $20 to ascend into blizzard-y oblivion for several months out of the year is so ludicrous as to cast a shadow over the whole proposal.