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Lincoln Park, Old Town

REI Bringing Kayak And Paddleboard Rentals To North Branch Of Chicago River

The riverfront store in Goose Island aims to open by early next year. It will have dedicated parking for cars and bikes, plus an outdoor patio.

A rendering of the 2-story, 40,000 REI store at 905 W. Eastman St. that aims to open early next year.
[CallisonRKTL for REI] 

GOOSE ISLAND — The REI in Lincoln Park plans to relocate to a 2-story building along the banks of the Chicago River, where water lovers can rent kayaks and paddle boards and take guided classes, it was announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Kent, Wash.-based outdoor retailer on Wednesday. 

The 40,000 square-foot REI at 905 W. Eastman St. in Goose Island aims to open early next year, officials said. It will further Emanuel’s ongoing vision of transforming the Chicago Riverfront into “the next great recreational frontier.”

 “Together we are building on the blueprint of Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago, so that our children inherit a more active, more vibrant and more inclusive city than ever before,” Emanuel said in a statement. Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago recommended a series of projects focused on the protection and preservation of parkland in Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Currently, there are two existing kayak rental companies in the North Branch: Waterriders and Kayak Chicago. This summer, REI struck a deal with the Chicago Park District to offer classes and kayak rentals out of Ping Tom Memorial Park boat house in the River’s South Branch in Chinatown.

The forthcoming REI, first reported by Crain’s in April, will offer kayak and paddleboard rentals with direct access to the Chicago River. REI signed a 15-year lease for the space, according to the Tribune

The store will have dedicated parking for cars and bikes, an outdoor patio and a ski and snowboard shop, according to REI.

There are more than 161,000 active REI members in Chicago, according to REI Co-Op, which has a mission to make the outdoors more accessible for all. The new REI store will continue to offer a full-service bike, ski and snowboard shop  and outdoor experiences with REI Outdoor School, the company said. 

The existing Lincoln Park store at 1466 N. Halsted St. opened in 2008. Mike Daurio, REI Lincoln Park store manager, said that when completed, the new location “will be one of the co-op’s most exciting retail spaces.”

A rendering of the planned REI at 905 W. Eastman St. [CallisonRKTL for REI]

According to the news release, REI, which also has stores in suburbs Oakbrook and Northbrook, has invested nearly $230,000 in Chicago-area nonprofits including the Friends of the Chicago River, Urban Rivers and Friends of the Forest Preserves.

The new REI Goose Island store location—  between Division Street and North Avenue—  is within a stretch of the North Branch Canal dubbed the “wild mile” that will include habitat improvements, pedestrian walkways, fishing stations, vegetative islands, viewing platforms, canoe launches and other amenities that cater to the public and wildlife, officials said.

While the main and south branches of the Chicago River have seen a rise in kayaking, the increased activity on the water is not without dangers. Earlier this summer, a Shoreline Sightseeing boat helped rescue two people after their kayak overturned in the South Branch of the Chicago River.

Kayaking in the river has grown “exponentially” since 2002, and traffic on the city’s waterways is a concern, Michelle Woods, the city’s project manager for concessions on the Riverwalk and Downtown Docks, previously said.

Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, which has long championed for the River’s transformation from industrial to recreational uses, said the nonprofit “can’t wait” for the expanded programming that will come with REI’s relocation to the river’s edge. 

“REI has been a terrific partner supporting restoration and trail initiatives while serving as an ambassador for our ever improving river. Their presence on the water on the North and South Branches will more encourage people to get out on the water and help them understand of how much progress we’ve made in cleaning it up once they are there,” Frisbie said, referring to REI’s existing boat houses at Ping Tom Memorial Park on the Chicago River’s South Branch, and at the REI Boathouse at Saganashkee Slough in suburban Willow Springs.

Adopted by City Council last spring to revitalize the North Branch Industrial Corridor, the upcoming REI store furthers the strategic goals of the city’s “North Branch Framework Plan,” which wants to bring a wider variety of land uses, open spaces and transportation improvements to the corridor. Earlier this week, the Tribune reported that water taxis aim to expand routes to the North Branch’s Goose Island within the next 2-3 years.

According to the Tribune, the City Council approved spending $250,000 on a plan for North Branch improvements earlier this year, and another $250,000 to build a public pier or platform along Eastman Street, which runs adjacent to REI’s space. 

A Shoreline Sightseeing boat helped rescue two people after their kayak overturned in the Chicago River. [Chicago Fire Department/Twitter]