Last year, the Windy City garnered international buzz for its ascendant culinary scene, including Michelin-starred and James Beard Award–winning restaurants in addition to its popular riverfront cruises and newly extended Riverwalk.
Add to that the increasing number of hotel options combined with the city’s existing reputation for architecture, coveted live theater and entertainment, and it’s easy to see why travelers from all over the world are drawn to Chicago.
Indeed, in 2018 Chicago welcomed more than 57.6 million visitors, a growth of 4.3% over the previous year.
“By continuing to set new tourism records and bring millions more people to Chicago every year, we are creating jobs and economic opportunities that reach every neighborhood,” said former Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In 2019, Chicago, which ranks #7 in our Place category and #2 for Programming, continues to floor visitors with innovative culinary and mixology adventures, daring hotel concepts and world-renowned art exhibits.
Chicago is the birthplace of modern blues, and The Chicago Blues Experience, opening in 2020, will celebrate pioneering artists and generations of musicians who have been influenced by blues and continue to carry on its traditions. Set near Millennium Park, it will be filled with history-driven interactive displays, tributes to local legends and Chicago blues memorabilia, as well as a performance lounge and restaurant.
The James Beard Foundation Awards, an annual event honoring the best of the best in the food and restaurant industry, successfully made the move to Chicago in 2015 and recently announced that it will call Chicago home until 2027. The Windy City lands at #3 in our Restaurants subcategory, but there’s much to do when not eating your way around town.
This year (2019) has been designated the “Year of Chicago Theater,” an initiative that will include theater performances—improv, dance, opera, puppetry and more—and special events for the public at hundreds of cultural venues, theaters, parks and neighborhood locations throughout the city. This citywide, year-long focus on theater is the first of its kind in the U.S.
“Our dream goal for this initiative is that every single Chicagoan will be welcomed into a theater,” says Chicago Theatres executive director Deb Clapp. “And that Chicagoans and visitors will embrace theater as one of the things that truly sets Chicago apart from other cities.”
What else sets the city apart from the competition? Chicago’s booming hotel industry, which provides ample accommodation options—from the intimate boutique to globally coveted luxury. One of the most anticipated additions to the hotel scene is the opening this fall of 21c Museum Hotel Chicago, a combination 297-room boutique hotel, multi-venue contemporary art museum and independently branded, chef-driven restaurant set downtown. The hotel will showcase rotating curated exhibitions, interactive site-specific art installations and a roster of cultural programming based on collaborations with local and national arts organizations. For an entirely different work of art, there’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic masterpiece, the Frederick C. Robie House, which re-emerged fully restored in spring 2019 after a historic $3-million interior restoration.
In March, the City announced the selection of architect team Studio ORD to lead the design of the unprecedented $8.5-billion expansion program for O’Hare International Airport, which will elevate the travel experience for the more than 83 million passengers who rely on O’Hare each year, and will create tens of thousands of jobs for the community. Chicago nabs the top spot in our Connectivity subcategory and will probably continue to do so in years to come.
The expansion will be paid for by airport revenues, not taxpayer dollars. At 2.2 million square feet, the new O’Hare Global Terminal will be one of the largest and most cutting edge in the nation and will feature an expanded, light-filled arrivals hall with additional gates; more space for concessions, lounges and public amenities; a state-of-the-art new baggage system; and advanced new technologies to improve security screening. It’s slated to break ground in 2023.
Meanwhile, at Midway International Airport, a nearly $400-million modernization program underway to improve travel to and from the airport is set to be completed by summer 2020. And the Amtrak-funded $22-million project to renovate Amtrak Chicago’s Union Station Great Hall was completed in winter 2018 just in time for the busy holiday season.
Chicago’s ultimately unsuccessful effort to woo Amazon’s second headquarters has led to some of the most ambitious developments gaining approval or taking significant steps in their planning during 2018. Dotting the city’s famous skyline are dozens of tower cranes proving that not even frigid temperatures can stop the construction boom. In downtown, the forest of high-rises continues to thicken while a fair share of projects are taking root in outlying neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Bucktown, where Sterling Bay has been seeking zoning approval to build more than 12 million square feet of office and residential high-rises, retail and other entertainment venues.
In 2019 the city will deliver a record 4,400 apartment units. Meanwhile, office towers, condos and educational buildings are contributing to Chicago’s vertical growth.