Calling it a boon to tourism, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday cut the ribbon on a $50 million CTA Green Line station that will serve McCormick Place, new convention center hotels, the Motor Row entertainment district and a new DePaul basketball arena.

The sleek new station that will plug a mass transit hole for South Loop residents is opening a few months late, but just in time for the Auto Show, which starts this weekend.

“It seems nice, modern, very functional, clean lines,” said Ryan Thorpe, 42, director of facility operations for McCormick Place. “I’d recommend it to anyone visiting the convention center.”

The station opens just days after Chicago “crossed the rubicon,” as Emanuel put it,  by attracting 50.2 million annual visitors to the city.

“One of the things McCormick Place was missing was the ability to attract foreign shows because people from Europe and other parts of the world are used to taking public transportation. They didn’t want to take buses. They didn’t want to take cabs. This opens up McCormick Place,” the mayor said.

“A couple months ago, Ald. [Pat] Dowell (3rd) and I cut the ribbon on a micro-brewery. Down the block is coming up a new residential facility hotel with a commercial strip. It proves once again that, if you make the investment in public transportation, it unlocks all the other economic development you want to see in the community.”

The $50 million station is the first to serve McCormick Place in nearly 40 years; a station at that same location was demolished in 1977. It will plug a two-mile gap in CTA service that now forces Near South Side Green Line riders to choose between existing stations at Roosevelt and 35th.

“I love it so far, it’s much more convenient than the Red Line,” said Essence Hayes, 19, a student at Roosevelt University who lives near the South Loop. She plans to use the time she’ll save on her commute to catch a few extra winks of sleep in the morning.

“It’s awesome,” said Justin Dorner, 25, an accountant who lives in the area and works the Loop. “This is going to cut my commute down probably 15 minutes.” Dorner thought the structure looked like a greenhouse. Others thought it resembled a cocoon, or something out of a science fiction movie.

The new Cermak/McCormick Place Green Line station, at Cermak Road and State Street, replaces a station demolished in 1977.  | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

The new Cermak/McCormick Place Green Line station, at Cermak Road and State Street, replaces a station demolished in 1977. | Brian Jackson/ Sun-Times

The Green Line station will have direct transfer connections to westbound buses and three elevator-accessible entrance points — on both sides of Cermak and on 23rd Street.

“This community, for a two-mile stretch, had no public transportation. They had to travel another mile either way to get the public transportation they need and deserve,” the mayor said Monday.

“This station now changes the economics—both for McCormick Place the cultural institution and, most importantly, for residents of the South Loop, who now can conveniently get from home to work or anywhere they need to go.”

Emanuel praised Dowell for insisting that area residents were involved — not just in using the station, but building it. That includes the public artwork that adorns the station. It’s eight panels by local artist Hebru Brantley that depicts the rich history of Motor Row.

Dowell agreed that the new $50 million station would be a catalyst for development. In fact, it’s already “spurred interest” in the area.

“We have development interest in the northeast corner of Wabash and 22nd. We’ve got some development interest at the old White Castle site. We should see more. And I’m sure this wreck right here [of burned-out restaurant next door] won’t be there very long,” Dowell said.

The new CTA's new Green Line station at Cermak and State, near McCormick Place, cost $50 million.  |  Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

The new CTA’s new Green Line station at Cermak Road and State Street, near McCormick Place, cost $50 million. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

The alderman noted that 3rd Ward residents spent 5,000 hours building the new station and that 50 percent of the work was done by Chicago residents.

“It was great to go around and see people [who] look like me working on the job site,” Dowell said.

The station includes three entrances — one on the north side of Cermak, one on the south side of Cermak, and one at 23rd Street. All three have Ventra fare card vending machines. The station features an island platform, meaning a single platform with trains stopping on either side. It has a full, tubular canopy, as well as heaters and benches.

“At least it’s covered. Most of the stations aren’t covered,” said Bob Burke, 46, who lives in the area and works for the state of Illinois. “It reminds me of the “Six Million Dollar Man” when he was running through the tunnel and Big Foot was chasing him.”

No Big Foot at this station, but it does have bike racks, bright lighting and security cameras and new signs, including digital displays. Though Monday was the official ribbon-cutton, trains had started using the station at 5 a.m. Sunday, according to the CTA’s website.