Crime and chaos downtown and beyond are keeping tourists away from Chicago, and experts say something has to change
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CHICAGO (CBS) — Such events as the chaos downtown that led to a deadly shooting right in the middle of Millennium Park have led people to cancel trips, meetings, and events in Chicago because they don’t feel safe.

As CBS 2’s Tara Molina reported Tuesday, hotel, restaurant, and city business operators have been hopeful for a great return this summer – the first summer since 2019 in which COVID-19 restrictions have not limited most options.

But Molina is told crime is keeping some away – and the city can’t afford that.

“The Chicago economy can’t afford for hotels to fail. It can’t afford for tourism to go down,” said Michael Jacobson, president of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. “So that’s why we need to figure out a solution to this problem.”

Chicago shines in the summer – the glistening blue waters of Lake Michigan whether enjoyed from boat or beach, the lush greenery of the parks from Loyola to Calumet, Buckingham Fountain soaring into the evening sky, the Blues Festival, the Pride Parade, fireworks at Navy Pier. And summer, of course, is when tourism usually goes up in Chicago – for good reason.

But this past weekend, those picturesque images were replaced by video showing fights on downtown streets in the shadow of landmarks such as the Chase Tower, people throwing things at cars and jumping on them, and gunfire that took the life of 16-year-old Seandell Holliday life in front of the Cloud Gate sculpture – or the Bean – in Millennium Park.

This comes as crime numbers near an all-time high in the Loop. The tables below show violent crime trends for the year through May 9 compared with past years – first for the whole city, then for the Loop.

Thus, for some, this great summer city has lost its luster.

“Our main headwind right now is public safety,” Jacobson said. “Unfortunately, we have seen both individual leisure travelers begin to cancel their hotel rooms for the next several weeks and months because of what they’ve been hearing on the news and seeing happen downtown. More concerning is we’ve even seen conferences pull out of Chicago all together for other cities in the Midwest.”

And that’s after downtown hotels were pummeled by the pandemic.

Thankfully, Jacobson says the recovery effort continues in Chicago – but still, Chicago is lagging behind other major U.S. cities when it comes to occupancy rates. From New York and Boston to Orlando and Atlanta, we’re dead last.

In New York – a city with plenty of its own concerns about crime – hotel occupancy stood at 77.6 percent from May 1 through May 7. In Chicago, the figure was 57.3 percent.

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CBS 2


“The gap between the recovery is starting to widen,” Jacobson said.

And those public safety concerns – specifically with regard to continued crime in Chicago – are playing a role.

“There’s no greater city to visit. It’s a shame that because of a few hundred individuals that like to wreak havoc every weekend downtown has the potential to undercut our entire recovery,” Jacobson said. “The crime is a problem we have to address.”

This comes as all kinds of summer fun is back on the books – street fairs, concerts, farmers’ markets, and all sorts of other events from one end of the city to the other. A total of 88 events are scheduled this month through September just at McCormick Place.

Molina is told industry leaders aren’t losing all hope quite yet. But there are conversations happening now, as they call for city officials to work on new solutions before this gets any worse.

“We just need to lay down all of our egos, put the rhetoric aside, and come up with some creative solutions to this,” Jacobson said. “The status quo isn’t working.”

He said the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association is doing its own part in that effort.

“Me and other business leaders have offered many times to come to the table and be a part of the solution,” he said. “We have thousands of jobs available across Chicago right now. Getting some of these kids into these jobs, for the summer or long term, we have the ability to do that.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced this week that she is moving the weekend curfew up to 10 p.m., and also restricting the times when unaccompanied minors may be in Millennium Park from Thursday to Sunday.

Michael Edwards, the President and CEO of the Chicago Loop Alliance, said the new restrictions on Millennium Park are a starting point to a solution:

“A safe and predictable Loop experience is vital to the security of all Chicagoans and visitors alike and remains essential to the continued recovery of our great city. The Loop is everyone’s neighborhood, a place where we all gather. Our downtown is more than a corporate hub, but an arts and culture mecca and a residential haven, the fastest growing downtown in the U.S. The future of Everyone’s Neighborhood depends on it being an accessible, safe, and equitable environment for the whole Loop and Chicago community. The new restrictions on Millennium Park are a starting point to the solution. The potential for future incidents that place the safety of people throughout the Loop at stake is not something we take lightly, and we look forward to engaging with Mayor Lightfoot, CPD, and the local community to ensure the resources are in place to restore civility and confidence in the Loop and the city of Chicago throughout the summer and establish increased safety for the Loop.”

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for McCormick Place issued this statement about the overall tourism outlook and concerns about crime:

Tourism Outlook

  • Summer tourism looks very promising. The latest forecast from STR for Spring- Summer (May – August) suggests room demand will be at 85% recovery of same period in pre-pandemic 2019, suggesting a good to very good season. Additionally, outside experts, like Expedia and World Travel & Tourism Council, are predicting a strong recovery.
  • In Chicago, the momentum is strong. For example, we are seeing a lot of restaurant openings and re-openings, this is a good indicator for the industry. Our arts and cultural institutions have a number of great exhibits scheduled over the summer.
  • There are also some unique events in Chicago this summer. For example, in June, United States Sail GP will be in Chicago for the first time at Navy Pier, and in July, the WNBA All Star Game will be in Chicago, also for the first time. 
  • On the business front, we’ve had a strong start to meetings and events, and have a robust calendar ahead. Between May and September, at McCormick Place alone, there are 88 events scheduled, with almost 700,000 hotel room nights and economic impact of more than $1B.

Crime

  • The incident this weekend at Millennium Park is tragic. Sadly, crime is an issue for every urban destination, and this is not unique to Chicago. Post-COVID, cities across the country are dealing with the issue of violence in the center core. Travelers understand that large cities require a level of awareness and Chicago is fortunate to have a police department that collaborates with the tourism and hospitality community. We know that ensuring the safety of visitors and residents is a critical priority for the City. As an industry, we are committed to working with the City and Chicago Police Department to make sure that we address the issue of crime for all of our neighborhoods.

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