-- The millennium is finally dawning on Chicago's lakefront.
Four years behind schedule, the $475 million Millennium Park, a pet project of Mayor Richard M. Daley's, is set to open in July with a fountain, elaborate gardens and a swooping, shimmering band shell designed by architect Frank Gehry.
Supporters expect the park to revitalize Chicago's reputation for great architecture and culture and draw more people to Grant Park, the city's "front yard," which stretches for a mile along Lake Michigan.
"We're the City of Big Shoulders, and we like to make big, bold statements," said Lois Weisberg, the city's commissioner of cultural affairs.
But the project has been beset by years of construction delays and cost overruns. It was initially budgeted at $150 million -- less than one-third its actual cost -- and was to open in 2000 as part of the city's millennium celebration.
Although an ice rink and 1,500-seat theater for music and dance are already in use, most of the park remains hidden behind construction fences and tents.
The one major piece visible is Gehry's contribution. The 120-foot-high music pavilion features a stage surrounded by billowing ribbons of stainless steel and a trellis of curling steel pipes that will support the sound system high above the audience.
Ned Cramer, curator of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, predicts the city will be "wowed" by the opening, even if it is four years late.
"The sheer novelty of what's happening there is guaranteed to do exactly what it's supposed to do, which is to draw people's attention," Cramer said.
Daley proposed the park in 1998 on the 24-acre space between the lake and bustling Michigan Avenue, which used to have a rail yard and parking lot that marred the northwest corner of otherwise elegant Grant Park.
The mayor was heavily involved in the park's planning. He demanded that there be indoor bathrooms instead of portable toilets and worried that a Gehry-designed bridge would overshadow other features.
Daley blamed Gehry for costly delays after a 2001 investigation by the Chicago Tribune found that poor planning, design problems and cronyism led to skyrocketing costs. Daley backed off the assertion days later.
Officially, many factors have been blamed for the delay: a vision that grew more grand as time went on; structural problems with the underground parking garages; and the engineering challenges inherent in building Gehry's immense band shell, including a crane so heavy it had to arrive in pieces for fear it would crack the street below.
In the end, Gehry's bridge was built, its brushed stainless-steel panels curling like a snake toward Lake Michigan.
But the showcase is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, the outdoor concert venue named after the late founder of the Hyatt hotel chain. It is designed by Gehry, the architect acclaimed for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, and Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.
Other highlights include a 110-ton sculpture forged of a seamless series of highly polished, reflective stainless-steel plates. Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor has not named the piece, but its shape has already inspired the nickname "The Bean."
A fountain with a reflecting pool will be bookended by two 50-foot-tall towers of glass bricks. Changing video images will be projected onto the towers, including the faces of 1,000 Chicagoans recorded pursing their lips so it will appear as if water is coming out of their mouths -- a 21st-century version of gargoyles.
In all, about $200 million of the funding came from private contributors whose names are sprinkled throughout the park -- Wrigley Square, Bank One Promenade, BP Pedestrian Bridge, McCormick Tribune Plaza, the Lurie Garden.
The city's $270 million is coming mostly from bonds backed by revenue from the underground parking garages, said Lisa Schrader, a spokeswoman in the city's budget office.
Ed Uhlir, the park's project director, said the idea of naming the space "Millennium Park" drew an emotional response too strong to discard, even if he now says the original target completion date was impossible to meet.
"Certainly it was overoptimistic," Uhlir said.
But he is confident that once people visit the park, they will appreciate the complexity of the job and realize why it took so long.
"I think Chicago is going to be frankly blown away by it," he said. "It's going to last for a millennium."
Pedestrians pass the music pavilion, which is topped with curved stainless-steel panels resembling flower petals. The pavilion will seat 4,000, and the sound system will be supported high above the audience.A pedestrian bridge with sloping stainless-steel sides leads to Chicago's Millennium Park. Four years behind schedule, the $475 million park near Lake Michigan is to open in July.Workers install seats in the music pavilion. Mayor Richard Daley proposed building the park in 1998, but it has experienced cost overruns and construction delays.