As we set the agenda for 2020 and beyond, we need to be mindful of the environment in which we find ourselves. Mayor Lightfoot has prioritized investment in brown and black communities and launched her initiative, Invest Southwest, in the Austin community at a small storefront business, packed full of civic leaders including Dave Casper, CEO of BMO Harris Bank. BMO, the title sponsor of the BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, is a deeply valued partner of ours.
I was invited by the Mayor to attend the event and was there when Dave announced BMO’s commitment of 10 million dollars for south and west side neighborhoods. That event and this investment initiative are the response to years of disinvestment in those communities, and we as Chicago’s front door need to step up our commitment and work to welcome all our neighborhoods to downtown and tie downtown to our neighborhoods. We cannot thrive, we cannot grow, if we don’t thrive and grow together.
By the year 2050, America will be a “majority minority” country, meaning that minorities will comprise a majority of Americans. Even now, no peer city has a more evenly split representation of white, black, and Hispanic populations than Chicago. But the city’s demographic groups are highly segregated from each other. Chicago ranks third in unemployment amongst peer cities; and the median household income for African Americans is lower than 9 out of 10 peer cities, which is driving a major exodus. It’s projected that by 2030, if we don’t intervene, Chicago will be eclipsed in population by Dallas, making us the 4th largest city in America. In response to these local and national trends, we need to be more relevant, inclusive and engaged than ever.
Chicago and the state’s pension and fiscal issues are ever top of mind and the real and perceived impact of crime in our city has taken a toll on our residents and visitors. While we are gaining in domestic travelers, international visitation is down, and those are the people who spend significantly in our district and at our businesses. The impact of the coronavirus in China will have a direct impact on our businesses’ fiscal health. Property taxes are high and likely increasing, as Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi changes the assessment process and there is a continued reliance by our local and state governments on property taxes for the majority of funding.
Consumer shopping habits are changing, there is yet to be a retail crystal ball that predicts the future of our brick and mortar stores, and no one seems to know what Millennials will really do in the end. Add to that competition from the West Loop/Fulton Market and planned developments, like The 78 and Lincoln Yards, and we’ve got our work cut out for us.
Not everything is doom and gloom, though. A new kind of experiential retail is emerging on Michigan Avenue where the immersive, in-store experience leads purchasing decisions. Two recent examples include Starbucks Reserve Roastery, which holds the record for most customers through the door in a single day, and AT&T Flagship Store’s successful 25th anniversary of Friends.
We are in the 10th year of an unprecedented economic expansion, we’ve become home to the most Fortune 500 headquarters in the United States, and O’Hare is again the busiest domestic airport by passenger volume and about to get a begin work on a brand-new terminal that will put us on the world map for amenities, design and creativity.
Plus, we’ve got a secret weapon up our sleeve: you, our members. Our Chair, Rich Gamble, has asserted that we are stronger together. I can attest to that. As I have listened to your stories, I have witnessed the passion and commitment you share to Chicago and The Magnificent Mile. Whether you are a restaurateur, service provider, in sales, or part of one of our great educational, arts or healthcare institutions, you believe in the value of our district and The Association. You’re talented and experienced, well-resourced and connected and you willingly offer those treasures to fellow members and us at The Association.
We, in turn, will be stepping up to do more of what you and this city need: we will actively seek out new businesses for vacant and available space on Michigan Avenue and in the district, working with our Cornerstone partners to identify how we can best position the district through data, supportive programs and support to new uses and operators.
We will lead in advocating for more security and safety resources to ensure that visitors, employees and residents alike are protected in our district. We will be at the table when important decisions are made, including my current participation on a Tourism and Hospitality task force as part of the Mayor’s 2030 Economic Plan for inclusive growth.
We will deepen our connections to Chicago’s neighborhoods by partnering on Invest Southwest projects and initiatives. We will leverage our world-renowned cultural institutions and launch new and innovative programming as we bring the “Year of Chicago Music” to life in 2020, in conjunction with our partners, David Whitaker and Glenn Eden from Choose Chicago, and Mark Kelly from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
In May, we will kick off the centennial celebration of the DuSable Bridge on Michigan Avenue with new partners, the DuSable Coalition and the American Indian Center. We will work with these and other important partners to plan a centennial celebration that honestly reflects our history and makes clear our commitment to the future of Michigan Avenue and the district. The centennial celebration is an opportunity to create greater connections between Michigan Avenue and neighborhoods throughout our great city in the coming years.
We have global name recognition that puts us in the same league with Fifth Avenue, Rodeo Drive, and the Champs Elysees, and we will continue to work on behalf of you, our members, to keep this district safe, beautiful and vibrant and ensure that our Association becomes more relevant as we move into this next decade and beyond.
Kimberly Bares, President and CEO