Millennium Park named top Midwest attraction


Wesley Herold

Millennium Park was named the top tourist attraction in the Midwest for its free, culturally significant work open to locals and visitors, said Millennium Park Foundation Executive Director Scott Stewart.

By Jackie Murray

Millennium Park is now the top tourist attraction in the Midwest and among the Top 10 most-visited sites in the country, putting the park in the company of the New York City’s Central Park and Washington D.C.’s National Mall. 

The park’s appeal is linked to its exhibition of significant artistic work and free entertainment, said Scott Stewart, executive director of the Millennium Park Foundation. 

Bringing free expressive art forms, including the Cloud Gate sculpture, Pritzker Pavilion and Crown Fountain, to the citizens and visitors of Chicago is what makes Millennium Park stand out, Stewart added. 

“We bring the best of art, architecture, performance and music,” Stewart said. “Whatever that culturally significant activity may be, [the park] brings the best of that at hand here in Chicago.” 

Chicago broke tourism records in 2016 when it drew in 54.1 million visitors citywide with 12.9 million visitors coming to Millennium Park in just the second half of the year. 

The park has become a beloved destination because of its free programming, architecture, landscape design and public art, said Mary May, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events spokeswoman, in an April 12 email. Free programming has been a “hallmark” of Millennium Park since its opening in 2004, she added. 

“We help to create activities, programs  and experiences in the park that are unique to Chicago and Millennium Park, and that are innovative and reflect this beautiful tapestry that Chicago is,” Stewart said. “We want to see all of that diversity and distinctiveness reflected [in the park].” 

Robert Stokes, director of the School of Public Services at DePaul University, said cities like Chicago have invested in tourism to replace the lost revenue and employment opportunities that left with the manufacturing jobs. 

Tourists patronize Chicago’s restaurants, hotels and entertainment activities, which give Chicagoans jobs, Stokes said.

Because of this system, cities tend to prefer the type of tourism that has the most economic impact on the broader structure of the city’s economic activities, he added. 

“If you think about the city as a tourist shed with all  different types of visitors that are going to come and use the city as for various reasons, you start to add up the impacts and costs of all that,” Stokes said. 

In order to maintain being the top tourist attraction in the Midwest, Stewart said he sees an opportunity to re-envision some of the landscape elements in the park to make them more “ecologically vibrant” and “environmentally meaningful.”

Millennium Park is a destination because of its elements, but the landscapes should become destinations themselves, he added. 

“Chicagoans saw what this park could be, and we committed our personal resources, time, effort and finances to it,” Stewart said. “ It has grown into this wonderfully beautiful dynamic and cultural space.”