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About Navy Pier - Polk Bros Park

Chicago’s legendary Polk family announced a $20 million legacy gift to Navy Pier, a gift that will contribute to the dramatic transformation of the Pier. The donation marks the single largest private gift ever made to Navy Pier in its nearly 100-year history.

In anticipation of Navy Pier’s centennial in 2016, the Pier is undergoing a dramatic redevelopment to update its features and amenities. The multi-year effort, which began in fall 2013, will transform Navy Pier’s 50 acres of premier urban waterfront into a spectacular, global destination and treasure for Chicagoans and visitors.

The Polk family gift will support the redevelopment of Navy Pier’s 13 acre entrance – Gateway Park – and its new fountain, promenade and exciting performance lawns. The Polk family’s generosity will be recognized by naming various elements in the new Polk Bros Park, which will serve as Navy Pier’s green front door, inviting the public into a revitalized Pier.

A signature fountain, which will convert to an ice rink in the winter months, will anchor Polk Bros Park’s newly expanded plaza. More than 250 programmable jets will mimic the movements of waves, schools of fish, or flocks of birds providing variety and richness and evoking interest and wonder. This highly interactive 12,500-square-foot feature will delight visitors and encourage family fun.

As part of Polk Bros Park, the main promenade connecting the city with Navy Pier will be widened and enhanced with a Welcome Pavilion, which will house Park amenities, such as bicycle and skate rental. The new Polk Bros Park also will include two magnificent new performance spaces at its southern end to host live arts and culture events against the backdrop of the lake and spectacular Chicago skyline. The arts and culture plan will engage Chicago’s arts organizations in creating programming designed to appeal to the city’s economically, racially and culturally diverse residents, making it a highly sought-after destination for enjoying arts and culture in the city.

The Polk family’s generous gift is a substantial step toward the completion of a reimagined Navy Pier, and marks the first of several partnership relationships that will make the Pier’s redevelopment a reality.

Construction is projected to be completed in time for the Pier’s 100th anniversary in 2016. The cost of redeveloping the Pier’s redesign is estimated at $115 million.

Implementation of Navy Pier’s redevelopment will contribute significantly to the local economy by adding 1,565 permanent jobs throughout the city, generating $165 million in additional spending and $13 million in additional city, county and state taxes on an annual basis, making it a cultural destination that continues to also deliver positive economic impact.

View the Polk Bros Legacy Gift Announcement Press Conference
Video Credit: City of Chicago TV


Renderings of Polk Bros Park and Family Images


The Polk Family: A History of Chicago Commitment

The Polk family transformed Chicago when they blazed an innovative and enduring path in American retail selling furniture and large home appliances at affordable prices.

Sol Polk, son of Romanian immigrants, opened the first store in 1935 in the Portage Park neighborhood, and was soon joined by his brothers Sam, Harry, David and Morris, and sister Goldie, renaming the business Polk Bros in 1946. At its peak, there were 17 neighborhood-based stores, and Polk Bros became known for its discount prices and innovative merchandising.

The family’s commitment was not only demonstrated on the showroom floor, but also cultivated through a rich tradition of giving back to the people and communities their stores served. Polk Bros was the most successful Chicago retailer that never opened a store downtown, being committed to serving all Chicagoans throughout the city.

The Polk Bros. Foundation was founded in the mid-1950s as a vehicle to give back to Chicago communities. In 1988 the foundation was separated from the business and reestablished with a new board of directors consisting of family and non-family members. When the retail stores closed in 1992, the company transferred all of its assets into the Foundation.

The Foundation provides funding to programs and initiatives having a tangible impact on the lives of people throughout Chicago and focuses on helping Chicagoans reach their full potential. It partners with nonprofits that work to build strong communities and strong families and provide quality education, preventive and primary health care, and access to the arts. Over the past 25 years, the Foundation has grown to become the third largest funder of Chicago nonprofits, supporting nearly 3,000 organizations with close to $300 million in grants. In 2013, the Foundation provided $20 million to more than 350 Chicago nonprofits.

Although the Foundation is a private, independent organization, Polk family members remain actively involved, including Sandra Polk Guthman, who served as the Foundation’s president and CEO for nearly 20 years and continues as the Board chair; and Bruce Bachmann and Howard Polk who have also served on the Foundation Board since its beginning in 1988.

Nearly 80 years after the first store opened, the Polk family feels the time is right to provide a major family legacy gift – outside of and in addition to the annual Foundation grants – that would benefit Chicagoans from all walks of life and be a proud, lasting testament to the Polk family and its history of success and giving.