First there was Navy Pier. Then the Sears Tower and The Bean. And now Chicago’s next big tourist attraction is on its way: Breakwater Chicago.
But this new attraction is more like The Bean than the famous skyscraper or pier — it can’t be easily described. Ashvin Lad, the vice president and co-founder of Breakwater, puts it like this: “It’s going to be a destination for boaters and non-boaters that will enhance access to the lake for people in Chicago.” Put more simply, Breakwater Chicago is a one-part island, one-part yacht that will float in Lake Michigan. The project has been in the works since 2013 and will take to the lake in May of 2016.
The plan is to create a 300-by-100-foot vessel that floats about a mile off shore during the summer. In the winter, it’ll be anchored to shore and covered with an insulating dome. On the island-yacht, visitors will have access to three restaurants, a nightclub, and a spa. Pools cover most of the vessel’s surface — “in Chicago, there’s not a lot of pools unless you’re in a condo building or a hotel,” Lad says. But its biggest selling point? “It’s a one-stop-shop for boaters and non-boaters to experience the lake…and a skyline view of Chicago.”
The project’s cofounders include Beau D’Arcy, a mechanical engineer with a Harvard Business School degree, and Lad, a biomedical and chemical engineer with a decade of business development experience. In 2013, the duo started planning Breakwater for Chicago — and not just because they’re from the area. The inspiration came after noticing a lack of attractions for the 6,000 boaters in Chicago’s large harbor system. “For boaters, there are no destinations at all,” Lad says. Breakwater solves this: Boaters no longer have to travel hours to Indiana or Michigan to explore someplace new. They pay an hourly docking fee, which varies depending on the time of year and day of the week and covers access to all of Breakwater’s amenities. And for those who don’t own boats? To get to the island-yacht, a water taxi ride costs an average of $20.
But the focus isn’t just on visitors. Once Breakwater takes to the lake, it’ll serve the lake’s ecosystem. The boat’s hull will mimic a coral reef, which will promote seaweed and algae growth while providing a habitat for wildlife. In the winter, exhaust the vessel generates will heat the dome, and they’ll use the cool lake temperatures to help with food refrigeration and other cooling.
But an innovative project like this one doesn’t come without challenges — the biggest one being the permitting process. Breakwater will need approvals from the Coast Guard and various state and city departments. So far, they haven’t gotten any official permits yet. “We’ve gotten [an unofficial] thumbs-up from everyone we need a thumbs-up from. We’ve always been told to keep moving forward,” Lad says. Getting those permits is more difficult for the floating vessel than a land-based space, too. Lad says the approvers often aren’t exactly sure how to permit and what to look for in something that’s never existed before.
The other challenge: setting a timeline. Originally, the Breakwater team estimated a summer 2015 opening date. Now, the opening date will depend on funding. Breakwater could cost more than $20 million, and the capital-raising process is ongoing. The first of two rounds of funding, which closed last fall, covered architectural design and engineering, Lad says. It also included a Kickstarter campaign, which raised more than $60,000 from over 700 backers — twice its original goal. Those funds were used to purchase 3D video equipment and a 1:100 scale model, which the team will use during its second round of funding to show potential investors more realistic mock-ups of Breakwater. The second half of capital raised will go toward actual construction. But Lad is confident that the capital will come. “Investors to date are all Chicago-based — people who love the lake and want to be part of something unique and iconic,” he says. “There is plenty of excitement to back the project.”
If the excitement continues, Breakwater might just come to sit alongside Navy Pier and the Sears Tower on Chicago’s list of attractions. And whatever comes next will have a lot to live up to.