Updated: January 24, 2013 3:32PM
Navy Pier officials said Thursday they are closing the books on a record year for attendance and hope for bigger things in 2013, when the popular Tall Ships show is scheduled for a return booking.
The lakefront destination, listed as the biggest tourist attraction in Illinois, estimated that 9.18 million people visited in 2012, 5 percent more than the count for 2011. The result topped an old record from 2000.
Pier President Marilynn Gardner said the result provides momentum as her agency picks up the pace on planning for a broad renovation. Navy Pier Inc., the nonprofit agency that runs the six-block-long site, has contracted with a New York firm, James Corner Field Operations, to oversee a design of its public spaces.
Much of the work is expected to be finished in time for the pier’s centennial in 2016.
Gardner said the pier’s challenge “is to keep the momentum going and keep the people coming during this time of transition.” She said she hopes details about the work can be released in a couple of months.
In a report to the pier’s board, she said overall sales rose 7 percent in 2012, with the largest increase being 9 percent from the sit-down restaurants.
She also said several steps were taken in 2012 to reduce expenses, such as outsourcing certain operations.
The Tall Ships show is scheduled for Aug. 7 to 11. It returns to Navy Pier every three years.
Financial results from 2012 are incomplete.