New York has the ball, Sydney has the Bridge, and this year, Chicago had the Star. And at midnight on New Year’s Eve, when that giant sparkler roared 360 feet into the night sky, it not only marked the start of 2016 but also a new initiative to boost winter tourism in Chicago.
It was the shining moment of Chi-Town Rising, the city’s first-ever nationally televised New Year’s Eve event, held along Wacker Drive and the Chicago River. The night offered the hallmark countdown and midnight fireworks, but also musical entertainment by the band Chicago and a family celebration, in total drawing an estimated 90,000 people over the course of one day.
“It exceeded our expectations,” says Executive Producer John Murray, who is also president of Arena Partners and founder and inaugural chairman of the Chicago Sports Commission, which in the past has landed huge tourism events for the city such as the NFL and NHL drafts and America’s Cup sailing series.
Visitors from 39 states and eight countries bought tickets to the privately funded Chi-Town Rising celebration, which gave them the option of joining the television audience or enjoying spectacular views at the nearby Corona Beach House party zone. Even greater than the on-site audience, though, were the 1.66 million people from all over the country—Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Memphis, Dallas and the greater Chicago area—that also tuned into the live broadcast hosted by Mario Lopez on NBC. Further advertising and media coverage generated a whopping 1.5 billion impressions, with Chicago eventually being named a top 10 international destination for New Year’s Eve by online media outlets like Kayak.com.
Together, it “drove our end goal of raising awareness of Chicago as a winter destination,” says Murray, by bringing tourists to the city at a time of year when convention, hotel and restaurant bookings are dramatically slower. To build on that momentum, and the 15 percent of viewers who noted in followup surveys that they’d return for the 2017 celebration, Chi-Town Rising plans to anchor a multiday winter festival in the coming years.
Though, as many planners know, a firsttime event of this magnitude doesn’t happen without challenges. Among them was the weather, of course, which Murray calls “a blessing and a curse,” after a major ice storm shut down the site on a key build-out day. Even so, he says, “We saw more traffic on the website and tickets purchased that day than we had seen any day previous.” Even the record cold that followed on the day of the event didn’t keep revelers away.
Nor did security concerns that were heightened by previous news-making attacks on Paris and San Bernardino, California. The ability of police, fire and public safety “to manage a larger crowd than anticipated should be applauded,” says Murray—as should the “well-mannered” crowd.
Time, though, was the biggest issue: Organizers only had 100 days to pull off the event once they were given the green light. And Murray says they couldn’t have done it without key players including ONE618 and Arena Parners for creating the star; Chicago Flyhouse, which designed, built and rigged it; FreemanXP and Freeman Audio Visual for providing production, equipment, staging and A/V management; Culture22 for crafting Chi-Town Rising’s brand identity; and Melrose Pyrotechnics for launching “one of the most spectacular fireworks displays,” Murray says.
Additional partners including Corona Extra, Hyatt Hotels and NBC 5 Chicago were also critical as they provided not just sponsorship support but were “in the trenches” every day helping to make the event better, admits Murray.
Most importantly, Chi-Town Rising proved “people will come out if you create an event that fills a void” and offers quality, entertainment and spectacle, says Murray.
Chicago’s newest tradition will rise again on Dec. 31.
Chicago’s Rising Star is the largest New Year’s Eve icon in the world, and it ascended into the sky accompanied by spectacular video, light effects and fireworks. Here’s how it compares to other NYE icons:
70 feet, 6 inches from tip-to-tip
360 feet at its highest point (stationed at the Hyatt Regency Chicago’s west tower)
34,000 pounds of steel for the support structure
MORE 2016 NYE EVENTS
Chi-Town Rising wasn’t the only toast to New Year’s Eve in Illinois. Here’s a look at other celebrations:
First Night Springfield
Celebrating 30 years, this Springfield Area Arts Council event offers family-friendly daytime activities, 30-plus performances on eight stages and fireworks over the State Capitol.
Zoo Year’s Eve, Brookfield Zoo
A live DJ, games, party favors, prizes and an early countdown were part of this family friendly affair. It’s free with a paid zoo admission so families can enjoy the animals and festivities together.
First Night Evanston
The North Shore celebrates with music, dance and poetry performances by some of the world’s finest artists, as well as a teenage battle of the bands, improv and family-friendly
BY THE NUMBER$
Chi-Town Rising gave city officials much to celebrate. It had an economic impact of...
$25 million overall
$2 million in direct local takes
43% increase in hotel demand
24% increase in room rates & occupancy