It’s a Great Lake, but it could be even greater

lakeFrom the Saturday, June 14, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

By Dave Wischnowsky


It’s so impressive that last summer when one of my wife’s friends visiting from the East Coast laid her eyes upon Lake Michigan for the first time, she shouted out in a Boston accent as thick as a bowl of chowder, “That is not a lake, no sir!”

But, yes, indeed it is.

And while Chicago’s massive inland “ocean” inarguably is the city’s greatest natural resource, one could actually argue that Chicago doesn’t use it enough as an entertainment resource. And I would agree.

However, one local entrepreneur wants to change that.

This week, Beau D’Arcy floated his big idea about how he wants to provide Chicagoans with a new way to enjoy Lake Michigan by creating a floating oasis about a mile off the shore complete with sundecks, restaurants, bars, shops, a swimming pool and room for plenty of boats to dock. Called Breakwater Chicago, the $23 million project sounds pretty wild. And it is. But I also think it’s an intriguing way for Chicago to start making its Great Lake even greater for both residents and visitors.

Because, unless you own a boat, have a friend that does, or are willing to drop big bucks to charter a cruise, most people don’t really get a chance to enjoy the lake beyond dipping your toes in it from a beach.

That reality struck D’Arcy, 33, a Plainfield native and Harvard Business school grad, who interned at the Venetian Hotel Resort Casino in Las Vegas while earning his business degree.

He told Crain’s Chicago Business that upon returning to Chicago after graduation, he realized that the city had no outdoor hotel pools that serve as standalone destinations as they do in Vegas. Additionally, he noticed that most boat owners lacked options for enjoying the lake with their boats beyond staying in their slips in the harbors or anchoring out in the so-called “Playpen” near Oak Street Beach.

As a result, D’Arcy decided to offer both by proposing a 300-by-100-foot floating vessel with a 2,850-person capacity that would charge a $20 cover fee which includes a water taxi ride to and from shore. He says that Breakwater would also be towed to the shore in winter and covered with a transparent, greenhouse-style dome so it could be used year-round.

On Tuesday. D’Arcy said that he hoped to raise $30,000 through Kickstarter to launch the project. As of Thursday morning, 343 backers had already pledged more than $32,000. If all goes well – and he was to get city approval – D’Arcy said that he would like to welcome the first guests to Breakwater by July 4, 2015.

I hope it happens. Just like I hope Chicago can win the rights to host the 2017 America’s Cup, which the city is competing for against the likes of San Francisco, San Diego and Bermuda, according to a BBC report this week. Set on a lake rather than an ocean, the Windy City may seem like an unlikely place to hold yachting’s marquee international event – and as a matter of fact, it’s never before been held on a lake – but I love the idea of Chicago trying to make a bigger splash with its body of water like many other cities do.

As an example, New York City features a floating bar set on an historic 1929 lightship called The Frying Pan that bobs just off one of its piers. Los Angelenos can sail out to Catalina Island to spend a day in the sun. And with creative thinking, Chicago too can make its lake more than simply Great.