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New attractions could be in place in months, tourism chief says

Updated: March 23, 2013 6:27AM

Intriguing new attractions to make Chicago more appealing to international tourists could be implemented within months with the potential to attract 75 million visitors by 2020, blowing past Mayor Rahm Emanuel 50 million goal, the board chairman of Choose Chicago said Thursday.

Glass-enclosed cable cars along the Chicago River, designated club cars on CTA trains to O’Hare Airport and plane rides along the lakefront may sound pie-in-the-sky but Bruce Rauner portrayed the ideas as attainable within a relatively short time frame.

“We could begin work and actually implement the ideas in the coming months. This isn’t years away. This isn’t a decade away. This is months and a couple of years” away, Rauner said.

“The great news is, each of them can be privately-financed, doesn’t need significant government support or taxpayer money.”

If Rauner is right, the economic pay-off would be huge: As many as 100,000 more jobs and a $12 billion increase in “direct spending” each year from a travel industry already responsible for 128,000 jobs, 43.6 million annual visitors and $12 billion in spending.

“We came up with…new rides, new events, new venues, new developments really focusing on our beautiful lakefront and what is rapidly becoming our beautiful riverfront….There are ways we can take ideas from around the world from other water-based cities, water-focused cities and really enhance the river experience here in Chicago,” Rauner said.

In addition to the cable cars, CTA club cars and “float plane port” on Northerly Island, the suggestions include: light shows illuminating buildings and bridges; a lakefront botanic garden; a technology park; a European-style architectural festival; a casino and entertainment complex that has eluded Chicago for decades and a jazz and blues hall of fame in the South Loop.

Addressing an audience assembled at the Cadillac Palace Theater for Choose Chicago’s annual meeting, Rauner said the Boston Consulting Group helped develop the ideas after comparing Chicago to “great cities of the world with similar characteristics,” including London, Singapore, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

The goal was to figure out what those cities offer visitors and “where they’re smart, creative and more successful than we are,” Rauner said.

Under the guidance of Broadway in Chicago President Lou Raizin and hotel investor Laurence Geller, consultants came back with two dozen “ideas for new attractions gleaned from other cities,” then used polling and focus groups to narrow down the list to seven or eight with the most promise.

Consultants from McKinsey & Co. will assist in, what Rauner called the “implementation” phase.

A video played during Thursday’s meeting portrayed the new attractions as creating a “Chicago for tomorrow” more appealing to international tourists who bypass the city, even after Chicago shined on the world stage during last year’s NATO Summit and the summit of Nobel laureates.

“We’ve got what it takes, but a majority of the world doesn’t know it,” Raizin said in the video.

“We are at a point where, when we make this small pivot, those floodgates are gonna open. And that’s what this is about: making that dramatic difference that lasts for a long time.”

Last year, Chicago opened international sales offices in Brazil, Germany and Japan in an effort to reach Emanuel’s goal of attracting 10 million more visitors by 2020.

The expansion was bankrolled, in part, by the $2 million saved by merging two major tourism organizations into one office now known as “Choose Chicago.”

On Thursday, Emanuel appeared before the group to announce that Chicago’s Department of Aviation would contribute another $5 million to Choose Chicago for the express purpose of marketing O’Hare and Midway Airports.

Boosting tourism has been a huge focus for Emanuel — and it shows in Choose Chicago’s annual budget. It’s gone from $14 million when the mayor took office to $27.6 million this year.

“There’s nothing more exciting than being here because this gets to my favorite four-letter word: J-O-B-S,” the mayor said Thursday.

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