Mayor celebrates Chicago tourism — and promise of OPC — at Sophy Hotel

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (center) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (right) show their appreciation as Mayor Rahm Emanuel thanks them for their roles in facilitating changes in labor rules at McCormick Place and in increasing the Illinois State budget for tourism. -Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrated seven years of growth in Chicago’s travel and tourism industry and its second consecutive year atop Condé Nast Traveler’s list of the best U.S. big cities in a speech today at the new Sophy Hotel, 1411 E. 53rd St.

The mayor said he expected that the Obama Presidential Center will become a top tourist draw when it opens next year, joining the city’s culinary and performing arts scenes and the revitalized Chicago Riverwalk. Emanuel predicted the OPC will be to tourists what McCormick Place is to business travelers. He also congratulated the hospitality industry for bringing 25,000 jobs.

David Whitaker, the president and CEO of Choose Chicago, the city’s tourism marketing organization, said hotel demand is up 4.9 percent over the last three quarters. Group demand was up 12.5 percent over the same period, and overnight stays are up 6 percent.

“People are choosing to meet in Chicago, and people are choosing to come and be part of the Chicago success matrix,” Whitaker said.

In years past, “Hyde Park would not be called part of the tourism or convention business,” said Emanuel. “If we were talking about conventions of tourism in Chicago, we’d be talking about either downtown or the North Side. It’s growing at such a pace now, it’s growing on the South Side of the City of Chicago.”

Emanuel lauded Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) and State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (25th) for helping bring the increase in tourists visiting the Windy City — 16 million, he said, to 55 million total. He said their legislative assistance helped mend chronic labor issues at McCormick Place and consolidate three tourism agencies into Choose Chicago, which has benefitted from state funding.

“That advertising goes directly to building and selling and marketing the City of Chicago not only across the United States, but across the globe,” Emanuel said. The bullish tourism industry is “why we’re so committed to also adding the Presidential Library to the City of Chicago — not only for its cultural attraction, not only for its educational attraction, not only to honor our favorite son, but what it will do to lock in tourism and visitors to the City of Chicago.”

He said the OPC will “make sure that Chicago will never slip back again.”

At a press conference after the speech, Sophy General Manager Anthony Beach said they were looking forward to the OPC, but that the hotel’s biggest partnership is with the University of Chicago. While the U. of C.’s growth has engendered Sophy’s growth, “The Obama Library will hopefully have us at 100 percent,” he said.