Next Step for The Bloomingdale Trail – Creating an identity

Chicago Tribune
By Kathy Bergen, Tribune reporter

The planned 2.7-mile Bloomingdale Trail and five linked parks — envisioned as an elevated pedestrian and bicycling corridor splashed with artwork and landscaping — will assume a new, overarching identity Tuesday when the multi-use recreation system assumes a fresh moniker: The 606.

The Trust for Public Land, manager of the project that will link four regenerating Northwest Side neighborhoods, will announce the label while presenting final project plans at a public meeting Tuesday evening. Construction on the $91 million public-private venture is expected to begin this summer, with the elevated trail portion to open for use by the fall of 2014. Artwork and other amenities will be added after that.

The 606 label represents something virtually all city residents share — the first three digits of Chicago ZIP codes, which planners hope will connote unity and links among neighborhoods.

“It’s really a sign that the project can stand on its own feet as being uniquely Chicago — the fact is, it will be pure Chicago,” said Paul Brourman, CEO of ad agency Sponge and member of the Chicago advisory board to the trust. He organized the pro bono naming effort.

The numerical label also is meant to harken back to the path’s roots as a 100-year-old rail bed running through a once-industrial corridor. “It’s reminiscent of a train route,” said Beth White, director of the trust’s Chicago office.

The 606 will be the brand for the whole project, which also is envisioned as an outdoor education site for Chicago schools. But its component parts, including the Bloomingdale Trail, will retain their own names.

“We respect the trail for what it is, a trail, but now it’s part of something bigger, the way Cloud Gate and Lurie Garden are part of Millennium Park,” said Matt Gordon, director of naming and writing for brand consultant Landor Associates and part of the park project’s branding team.

A logo, in which the numeral’s circles interlink, aims to show the brand as “a connector of people, communities and ideas, and a connection back to the city” said Jennifer Harrell, owner of Wyville USA, who designed the logo.

The text style aims for a modern look, and something that reflects the “Industrial Revolution, the grit of Chicago,” she said, adding that “we’re talking about doing a three-dimensional structure in black iron or steel.”

The development of a project name came about to dispel confusion surrounding the trail, which will run atop an abandoned 16-foot-high rail bed that runs above Bloomingdale Avenue, which is about 1800 north. It stretches from Ashland Avenue on the east to Ridgeway Avenue on the west, linking Bucktown, Wicker Park, Logan Square and Humboldt Park.

“Lots of people thought it was in Bloomingdale, Ill., or many times people would call it the Bloomington Trail,” White said.

Attracting corporate sponsorships was tricky, too, given that Bloomingdale’s is the name of a prominent retailer, which could dissuade other stores.

“There were questions raised in that arena too,” White acknowledged. The trust hopes to find a lead sponsor, as well as backers for components of the project.

Some marketing experts said the project should appeal sponsors, including health-oriented companies.

“You’re seeing parks, bicycling’s a healthy, outdoorsy type of thing,” said sports marketing veteran Bernie DiMeo, now head of public relations firm DiMeo Partners.

But some question the wisdom of retaining the Bloomingdale Trail as well.

“The 606 sounds cool, it has an obvious story to it,” said Tony Schiller, executive vice president of Paragon Marketing Group, a sponsorship and partnership marketing agency. “The Bloomingdale — what’s that?”

He also said it would have made more sense to engage a lead sponsor and bring the corporation into the naming process, rather than tacking it on later. “If you don’t integrate the brand into the name, it’s easy for the brand to go away,” he said.

The key, now, will be to come up with a strategy to integrate the corporate brand into the name, with various points of engagement, including media play, signage and special events, he said.

The project, which has been on the city’s wish list since 2004, has been put on a fast track by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with city departments overseeing construction of what will be part of the Chicago Park District system. The trust, along with Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, have been working to garner support.

The project has garnered $39 million in federal funds; $2 million from the park district; and as of early this year, $12.5 million in private donations including $2 million in leftover NATO summit funds, leaving another $38 million to be raised. The trust plans to announce progress on its fundraising later this summer. | twitter@kathy_bergen

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