Chicago is in the Minneapolis destination competitive set, and our team watches what goes on there very closely. So my visit allowed me to observe that city on an up-close and personal basis. I and Tom Rusza, one of our national account executives, happened to arrive just minutes after the big rally at Soldier Field celebrating the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup victory had ended. Chicago, a city of four million residents, is congested enough on a normal day, but the throngs of hockey-jersey-clad fanatics literally overwhelmed both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
But after the crowds subsided somewhat, I got to see some of the exciting changes there. For example, the Chicago Riverwalk is partially open and expanding along the Chicago River with street vendors, eateries, bikes and docking for all kinds of nautical vehicles. Millennium Park is run by the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and was abuzz as it usually is. Navy Pier is under a major renovation program and was also full of people eager to enjoy the first part of summer 2015.
My Chicago counterpart, Don Welsh, tells me that the year is going well for that city's hospitality industry. But he did confess that there are some “opportunity” dates in the first quarter of 2016 (join the club, Don). He is optimistic, however, that Chicago will eclipse 51 million visitors this year. That compares to our most recent visitor count for the metro area of nearly 31 million visitors last year.
It's noteworthy that some of our most formidable competitors like Chicago and Seattle, which I wrote about last week, are continuing to invest heavily in destination development. Both of these cities recognize the importance of job creation, local and state tax generation and the enhanced quality of life for citizens that comes from tourism and hospitality.
But not to be outdone, we should be proud of the ways in which our community continues to make similar investments. One major component of our city’s plans to make downtown special and memorable is the Downtown East Commons project. Miles Mercer of the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department is the project lead, and he presented the current renderings and future plans for the Commons in a meeting with a group of our hoteliers today. Here’s how the City describes the Commons:
“The Commons will serve the downtown community, workers, visitors, residents of Minneapolis and the region. It will also host events connected to the new stadium.”
The Commons will, of course, support the newly named U.S. Bank Stadium, but it will also create the connectivity that we've craved between the core of downtown and Downtown East. The Commons will also help to overcome the barrier that has existed with connecting with the Mississippi River. Check out the Commons website and see videos and images at www.downtowneastcommonsmpls.com. You'll see for yourself that our efforts to improve Minneapolis' livability and desirability as a destination are second to none among other communities.