By CBS Chicago
Millennium Park has surpassed Navy Pier as the most popular tourist attraction in the Midwest.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said 12.9 million people visited the park in the second half of 2016 alone.
That figure came from new technology centered around “Cloud Gate,” also known as “The Bean,” and one of the park’s most popular spots.
Electronic sensors tracked cell phone pings of Millennium Park visitors from June to December.
However, the mayor said the number of visitors should not be the main way the city measures tourism success. He said whether people from every community in Chicago believe they can get jobs and move into hospitality careers is the full measure.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Maggie Daley [Park] and Millennium Park, and hitting 13 million. You have seen it 100 times, where people from around the world come and say ‘What a beautiful city, what a clean city, what a friendly city.’ We want that same expression open to every person from every neighborhood in the city of Chicago,” he said at the city’s annual “Choose Chicago” tourism meeting at McCormick Place.
Emanuel said, thanks to the tourism generated by Millennium Park, Chicago has added between 15,000 and 20,000 hospitality jobs in the downtown area, meaning visitors are directly impacting the local economy.
“The partnership today between our entertainment and business travel institutions that support this growing part of our economy – with Chicago-Cook County workforce – will be essential in making sure that the opportunities, the promise of Chicago is alive for another generation,” he said.
Navy Pier reported 9.3 million visitors all of last year, but the pier hasn’t been losing guests, Millennium Park has just been attracting more and more tourists since it opened in 2003.
The mayor’s office said this year’s stacked series of summer festivals is likely to increase tourism at Millennium Park even further.
Emanuel also said Chicago broke tourism records last year, with 54.1 million visitors citywide, a 2.9 percent increase over 2015. He said his goal is to reach 55 million visitors a year by 2020.