Chicago has museums for art, science, history, the military and even butterflies. You can soon add ice cream to the list.
The Museum of Ice Cream plans to open next summer at the base of Tribune Tower on North Michigan Avenue. The 13,500-square-foot museum will feature 14 dessert-inspired installations and include a mini golf course and “Sprinkle Pool,” a ball pit with big plastic sprinkles instead of balls.
It’s a far-out idea that cynics may dismiss as another trendy tourist trap. But it has worked elsewhere. The Museum of Ice Cream opened its first location in New York in 2016 and has since expanded to other cities including Austin and Singapore.
The museum also illustrates one potential solution to the Magnificent Mile’s recent retail woes, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. With so many traditional retailers closing or shrinking stores—the Mag Mile’s vacancy rate has jumped to 26% from 12% in 2018, according to Cushman & Wakefield—more landlords are searching for tenants that sell “ticketed experiences,” museums and entertainment concepts that cater to tourists and face little competition from online retailers.
The latest example: the “Office Experience,” an exhibit based on the popular television mockumentary. The show is opening this month in a former Forever 21 store at 540 N. Michigan Ave.
Though many experiential tenants sign short-term leases for pop-up style shows, the Museum of Ice Cream has signed a long-term lease at the Shops at Tribune Tower, a 50,000-square-foot space at the base of the landmark 36-story tower. The building at 435 N. Michigan Ave. is undergoing a major transformation orchestrated by two developers, Chicago-based Golub & Co. and CIM Group, which is based in Los Angeles. Golub and CIM are converting the building’s office space, the former home of Tribune Publishing, into high-end condos and revamping its retail space.
The ice-cream museum is the first tenant to commit to the Shops at Tribune Tower, signing a lease for space that opens onto Pioneer Court, a large public plaza to the south that’s also undergoing a big makeover, with new landscaping and walkways.
“The opportunity to open one of the most ambitious formats of Museum of Ice Cream at Tribune Tower on the Magnificent Mile is incredibly exciting,” Maryellis Bunn, the museum’s co-founder and creative director, said in a statement. “The history of architecture, art and revolutionary commerce in this district over the past 100 years makes this a perfect setting for the next iteration of Museum of Ice Cream.”
A trip through the museum will last 60 to 90 minutes, during which visitors will receive five ice cream treats, according to the statement. Tickets will cost $39, according to a museum spokesman.
“Museum of Ice Cream has raised the bar on customer engagement and set a new standard for creative experiences, which we believe is the type of attraction that will draw scores of people to the area that will energize Pioneer Court and patronize other businesses and dining options here on the Magnificent Mile and the Riverwalk,” Shaul Kuba, CIM co-founder and principal, said in a statement.
Many Mag Mile landlords are hoping for more tenants like the Museum of Ice Cream to come along. Since the onset of COVID-19, the storied shopping strip has lost multiple retailers, including Macy’s, Gap, the Disney Store and Uniqlo. Experiential tenants could offer a solution to its struggles, filling in some empty space and diversifying its appeal with tourists beyond shopping.
Entertainment concepts have opened in other locations and are actively scouting for space in the neighborhood around the Mag Mile. In February, “Immersive Van Gogh,” a digital exhibit of the post-Impressionist’s artwork, opened in a landmark building in Old Town. In August, “The Art of Banksy,” featuring the anonymous subversive street artist, opens in a space at 360 N. State St.
Declining rents on North Michigan Avenue have attracted some concepts to the boulevard that might not have considered opening a show there before. Producers of shows based on King Tut, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss and even Pink Floyd have been shopping for Mag Mile space in recent months. Until they commit, however, Mag Mile visitors will have to settle for Dunder Mifflin and some Rocky Road.