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Chicago Plan Commission Approves Exterior Enhancement Plans to Bolster Guest Arrival and Entry Experience, Accessibility and Safety

The unanimous decision by the Plan Commission is an endorsement of Shedd's Centennial Commitment and will enable onsite construction at the aquarium beginning in early 2023

June 17, 2022

A rendering of the west side of Shedd Aquarium featuring a new entry pavilion surrounded by lush gardens.

Photo by: © Shedd Aquarium in collaboration with Valerio Dewalt Train and Visualized Concepts

CHICAGO – This week, the Chicago Plan Commission advanced Shedd Aquarium’s proposed changes to areas outside of its building on Museum Campus as part of the aquarium’s Centennial Commitment. The aquarium’s notable ambitions include the transformation of its surrounding greenspace as well as the augmentation of its entry pavilion and arrival experience. These changes are meant to improve the overall guest experience, create greater connectivity to nature and expand accessibility for anyone visiting Museum Campus.

“We have an opportunity to spark an engagement with the natural world well before someone walks through our doors to connect with aquatic life. The future enhancements will make the most of the aquarium’s incredible location on the shores of Lake Michigan,” said Dr. Bridget C. Coughlin, President and CEO of Shedd Aquarium. “Today’s hearing was an important next step and an endorsement for our vision, bold improvements for the city of Chicago. We cannot wait to get started creating the Shedd Aquarium of the future.”

The Chicago Plan Commission officially approved the aquarium’s lakefront protection application (LPA) at its regularly scheduled hearing on June 16. The LPA includes details of planned enhancements outside of the aquarium’s building that will coincide with transformations and restorations planned for the building itself. Some of these exterior improvements include:

  • A modernized, activated and reinvigorated entry pavilion, built on existing sidewalk, that emphasizes guest flow and creates space for animal encounters and facilitated experiences that will be available to anyone visiting Museum Campus – not just aquarium guests. Changes to the entryway will also expand physical accessibility for guests, ensuring a seamless journey into the aquatic animal world for all.
  • More inclusive green space and mobilized gardens throughout the aquarium’s four acres of surrounding green space. These changes will highlight and allow the aquarium’s sustainable approach for stewarding these shared spaces, encourage more nature exploration and create habitat for important native plants, migrating birds, insects and native pollinators.

In total, Shedd’s full construction project is poised to deliver a massive economic impact statewide, creating more than 2,000 jobs in Illinois and leading to more than $340 million in economic activity through its four phases. After completion, the aquarium’s estimated total economic impact will exceed $410 million annually.  

“It has been gratifying to partner with Shedd Aquarium on this ambitious plan, which will benefit everyone from residents of our 4th ward to tourists visiting Chicago,” said city Alderperson Sophia King. “Museums are a core part of what makes Chicago such a special place, and I applaud the aquarium for thoughtfully considering how we can truly lift everyone up with this project.”

Locally, the aquarium’s construction project will create economic opportunities for diverse contractors in Chicago. Shedd has mandated self-imposed goals to award subcontracting packages to diverse targets of at least 26% and 6% MBE/WBE vendors, 50% of total construction labor work hours to Chicago residents, and 25% of all onsite labor work hours to minority and female workers.  Additionally, Shedd will ensure these opportunities specifically benefit nearby Chicagoans, creating greater economic mobility and add value for communities closest to Museum Campus.  

The aquarium’s multi-year, four-phase construction project will begin in early 2023 and is expected to conclude in 2026 with new galleries, programs and experiences opening on a rolling basis.

Shedd opened its doors to the public in 1930 and has grown to become one of the world’s leading animal care, conservation, and education organizations, serving more than 200 million guests on Museum Campus over the last nine decades, along with countless more mission moments in schools, in communities, in nature and online. It draws the largest paid attendance of any Museums in the Park organization — nearly 2 million people every year for nearly two decades, one-third of whom visit for free through Shedd’s commitment to admission access.

Transformational support for the Centennial Commitment has been provided by The Harvey L. Miller Family Foundation, the Mansueto Foundation and Builders Initiative in addition to lead corporate contributions from Bank of America, GATX Corporation and Illinois Tool Works Inc.

Visit Shedd Aquarium’s website at to learn more.

VISUALS: New renderings of the exterior changes planned for the aquarium’s Centennial Commitment can be viewed and downloaded here:

Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium