NASCAR street race will give Chicago a big opportunity to shine

At a time when this city desperately needs a good national storyline, we have an opportunity to showcase the best of what Chicago has to offer to a global audience of millions, writes the head of Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

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Stock cars parked in downtown Chicago in July 2022 - a year before NASCAR will hold its first of three annual street races in Chicago. The 2.2-mile showcase represents the first street course race in NASCAR’s 75-year history.

Stock cars parked in downtown Chicago in July 2022 - a year before NASCAR will hold its first of three annual street races in Chicago. The 2.2-mile showcase represents the first street course race in NASCAR’s 75-year history.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Since the days of Daniel Burnham, Chicago has had a proud legacy of making bold plans.

Today, as our city continues to recover from the pandemic, we must embrace this spirit of big thinking if we, as a community, want to revitalize and diversify our economy.

Thankfully, Chicago was presented with a unique opportunity to make one such bold economic move by serving as the host city for NASCAR’s first-ever street race. In just over a month, some of the most elite athletes in the world will compete through downtown, along a backdrop of our most iconic landmarks, like Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute lions and the crystal-blue waters of Lake Michigan.

But this is not just another feather in the cap of Chicago’s rich history as a sports town – it’s also big business, and perhaps even an economic and reputational imperative.

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Hospitality and tourism represent a vital pillar of our city’s fiscal health. These industries were also, sadly, among the hardest hit sectors during the pandemic.

Bringing travel and tourism back to Chicago is one step of many that we must take to get our economy back on track. For every $100 a hotel guest spends on lodging, they spend another $222 at their destination. Chicago’s travel industry is a true economic engine for our city, state and the entire Midwest.

Bolstering Chicago’s fiscal outlook

The July 1-2 Chicago Street Race Weekend, a first-of-its-kind festival, is expected to attract more than 100,000 attendees and generate over $113 million in economic benefits for the city, its businesses and its workers. Race spectators — who hail from 48 states and 13 countries — will be eating in our restaurants, shopping in our small businesses and filling our hotel rooms, all of which will provide much-needed support for our municipal finances.

That’s something we should celebrate. Much like the Democratic National Convention, NASCAR could have selected any place in the world to debut its inaugural Cup Series street race, one of the biggest moves in the league’s 75-year history. Plenty of cities would have loved to roll out the red carpet, but NASCAR chose Chicago for a reason.

NASCAR is betting big on Chicago because we’re a city that’s second to none. We know how to host premiere events, whether it’s Lollapalooza, the NFL Draft, international conventions like the DNC or the annual Air & Water Show. We’ve done it before, and we know how to do it well.

That’s why NASCAR is investing more than $50 million in us as a city. The race weekend will create the equivalent of 850 full-time jobs and generate $31 million in personal earnings for workers. This is in addition to $3 million in direct taxes to the city to fund vital services like public safety, schools and our looming pension crisis.

But what you can’t quantify is perhaps most valuable of all: two days of live international sports and media coverage that will showcase our city at its summertime peak, making downtown Chicago the main star of the race.

At a time when this city desperately needs a good national storyline, we will have an opportunity to showcase the best of what Chicago has to offer to a global audience of millions — driving continued interest from potential visitors well beyond race weekend.

The Chicago Street Race is our chance to reignite our economic tourism engine and help drive our economy forward.

With NASCAR coming to Chicago, we’re in the pole position. It’s time to embrace this opportunity and not let our foot off the gas.

Jack Lavin is president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

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The views and opinions expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chicago Sun-Times or any of its affiliates.

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