Millennium Park

Tribune staff reporter

Only a little more than a year old, and already Millennium Park is everybody's baby.

It has drawn flocks of residents and tourists alike, office workers on a lunch break shoulder to shoulder with families from Trinidad or Tunisia. It appeals to those who quietly marvel at the sophisticated architecture of Frank Gehry's Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP bridge and to the children who scream with joy when the Crown Fountain's human faces spout water down upon them.

One indication that Chicago has taken this 24.5 acres of the city to its heart is the speed with which one of its attractions has been given a nickname.

Anish Kapoor titled his 60-foot-long, 30-foot-tall polished stainless-steel sculpture "Cloud Gate." Chicagoans, not knowing what a cloud gate looks like, but recognizing what the sculpture looks like, call it "The Bean."

Less known, but also wonderful and garnering some separate nominations, are the not yet fully realized Lurie Gardens and the Boeing Galleries, two granite-surfaced outdoor exhibit galleries. There's also that expanse of grass known as the Great Lawn, a sort of small-town New England commons reimagined in a grand urban setting.

Instead of seeming a hodge-podge of classical and contemporary with a water park thrown in, Millennium Park has come across as a place with something for everyone. It is democratic, welcoming all, yet given the grandeur of its main attractions, very much with the feel of some of the glorious parks in Paris where any commoner can stroll through princely settings.

Like many a diva, the park -- really a roof over underground parking and commuter rail tracks -- was tardy and expensive. Even before its opening four years late for the millennium, the park was famed for its well-publicized cost escalation. When Mayor Daley announced the project in 1998, it was a $150 million park. Only one year later, it was called a $200 million park. In 2000 the bill was at $230 million, then $270 million, then $350 million, and so on to $475 million.

But ask any of the kids soaked head to toe from splashing in the basin of the fountain if the place was worth the cost, and you won't get an answer. They're too busy squealing with delight.

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