A group of Chicago tourism officials and civic supporters who want to give the city’s image and economy a boost is examining a slate of ideas for new attractions and amenities that include light shows playing off downtown skyscrapers, airborne glass cable cars running along the riverfront and designated luxury cars on the transit line to O’Hare.
The brainstorming is taking place under the auspices of Choose Chicago, the not-for-profit that serves as the city’s convention and tourism bureau. Bruce Rauner, its chairman, is leading the push, along with significant input from hotel investor Laurence Geller, Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin and Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts.
The broad outlines of the vision, which aims to draw as much as $30 billion in private investment, are expected to be disclosed Thursday at the annual meeting of Choose Chicago. Other ideas include plane rides along the lakefront and perhaps an architecturally stunning casino complex if gambling is approved for the city.
“We said, ‘Let’s be aspirational and aggressive, not just incremental,'” Rauner said. The aim is to boost visitor numbers from nearly 44 million in 2011 to 70 million annually, which, if achieved, would blow past the 50 million Mayor Rahm Emanuel would like to see by 2020.
“We think we could create more than 100,000 permanent new jobs,” said Rauner, a venture capitalist who is viewed as a potential Republican candidate for governor. Any decision on that is months away, he said.
With help from the Boston Consulting Group, the tourism planning group tested 18 ideas from around the world, ranging from rides to events to museums to transportation ideas.
“We’ve picked out about eight or so that we think can really move the needle quickly, and they are pretty much all privately financed,” Rauner said. He declined to identify those specifically but said priorities would be set in the coming months with help from the Civic Consulting Alliance and McKinsey & Co.
Among the ideas under consideration, according to Rauner and other sources:
- Dramatic light show-type illuminations of city buildings and structures, such as bridges.
- A luxury casino-anchored entertainment complex, along the lines of the Marina Bay Sands, a massive resort in Singapore designed by Moshe Safdie and built for more than $5 billion. Such a project would depend on getting state approval for a downtown casino.
- Tourism “carriages” on the CTA between downtown and O’Hare International Airport, which would be set up as sorts of club cars, where travelers could get drinks and help with their luggage, among other amenities.
- Glass-bubble airborne cable cars — with air conditioning in summer and heat in winter — that would take visitors along the river from Navy Pier to the point where Wacker Drive turns south.
- A float plane port on Northerly Island, where tourists could take plane rides up and down the lakefront.
- A jazz and blues hall of fame on the Near South Side; a lakefront botanic garden; a technology park for children; and an architecture festival, similar to Biennale cultural festivals in Europe.
The idea would be to integrate these ideas with several other long-range tourism-related projects on the drawing board at various agencies, including a revamp of offerings at the lakefront Navy Pier; continued improvements to the downtown Riverwalk; development of hotels and night life near McCormick Place on the Near South Side; increased entertainment surrounding the United Center on the Near West Side; and development of a permanent amphitheater on Northerly Island.
All this movement comes at a time when the city’s image is taking a beating in national and international media concerning Chicago’s rising homicide toll.
“Clearly, we have concerns, but this is one of the greatest cities in the world, with incredible opportunities and quality of life,” Rauner said. “We all believe the tragedies with gang violence will subside and be reduced, and hopefully soon. It will be dealt with.”
Among those working with the planning group are Michael Sacks, vice chairman of World Business Chicago, the not-for-profit that functions as the city’s primary economic development agency; Lamar Johnson, a regional managing director of architecture firm Gensler; and Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises CEO Kevin Brown.
Choose Chicago CEO Don Welsh; city cultural affairs leader Michelle Boone; and Jim Reilly, CEO of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, are assisting as well.
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