Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has a vision of of transforming the Windy City into a Midwestern city of lights (à la Paris) and the largest Chinese New Year destination in North America as part of a two-part initiative to reach new tourism goals by 2020.
Emanuel announced the plans Wednesday saying Chicago needs a "comprehensive strategy and focus" to achieve the 10 percent increase in tourism numbers to a total of 55 million visitors a year. In his remarks, Emanuel added that tourism is a "a key driver of our economy."
Under the ambitious plan, the mayor said the city will launch an international competition inviting designers, engineers, architects, artists and others to devise ways of lighting city's buildings, streets and parks at night.
The Chicago Riverwalk, another of Emanuel's special projects, will be a centerpiece of the show, though the Sun-Times reports the lights will ultimately extend beyond the downtown area into nearby neighborhoods.
“It will make nighttime in Chicago an experience unto itself. It will make us North America’s city of lights. People will come from far and wide to see what we’ve done and enjoy our city,” Emanuel said.
The second part of the initiative will start immediately: Emanuel announced Chicago will host a citywide Chinese New Year celebration, with festivities running the traditional 15 days (Jan. 31 through Feb. 14 this year).
Emanuel's vision is to grow Chicago's celebration year-by-year until it's the biggest in North America -- an especially ambitious goal considering cities like San Francisco and New York City boast much larger Chinatowns -- and significantly larger Chinese populations.
Still, tourism officials plan to "heavily promote" the celebration around the country and overseas, particularly in China.
Lou Raizin, the head of Broadway in Chicago, is spearheading the lights initiative and said the city "absolutely" agreed to help pay for the lighting portion, the Sun-Times reports, telling attendees it was "too soon" to talk about solid numbers.
As the Chicago Business Journal notes, neither Emanuel nor anyone else connected to the initiatives has thus far mentioned how the projects would be paid for.
Not one to sweat such details in the face of a splashy new initiative's unveiling, Emanuel said, "Now is the time for us to continue that growth, including focusing on iconic events and opportunities that will place Chicago at the center of the global conversation."
According to the Associated Press, Chicago tourism officials also announced Wednesday the city posted record hotel occupancy -- more than 75 percent -- last year, beating the previous record set in 2007.