NASCAR has downtown-area hotels primed for steady stream of guests

NASCAR kicks off this weekend but it’s not the only show in town, proving Chicago can absorb the tourism and meeting business.

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View northbound over Presidential Paddock Club along Columbus Drive for the NASCAR Chicago Street Race in Grant Park on June 21, 2023.

View northbound over Presidential Paddock Club along Columbus Drive for the NASCAR Chicago Street Race in Grant Park on June 21, 2023.

Victor Hilitski/For the Sun-Times

You might not know that there’s another big event on its way to Chicago, but it’s taking over McCormick Place, not the city streets.

Overlapping this weekend’s first-ever NASCAR Chicago Street Race is USA Volleyball’s junior national championship for girls aged 14-17. It runs from Wednesday through July 6 and is expected to draw 50,000 people, making it a large event on the McCormick Place summer calendar.

The confluence of sports fans means the next few days will see plenty of visitors in town, and Chicago hotels are taking the demand in stride.

A check of online booking sites for stays starting Thursday through July 4 shows rooms are widely available, some at premium prices. It’s proof that Chicago is built to handle crowds and multiple events, said Michael Jacobson, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association.

He said NASCAR, for all the fanfare, was never expected to fill downtown hotels to capacity. The tourism agency Choose Chicago counts 45,000 hotel rooms in the central business district.

Even properties close to the NASCAR course report available rooms on their own reservation systems or on The Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., quoted nightly rates starting at $272 while the Palmer House, 17 E. Monroe St., came in at about $240.

For race fans willing to shell out more than $600 a night, high-end hotels such as the St. Regis and the Peninsula have availabilities for about $900 and $700, respectively.

At McCormick Place, rooms appeared to be sold out for the volleyball tourney at the Hyatt Regency and Marquis Marriott.

B.J. Evans, communications manager for USA Volleyball, said it has not encountered complications due to NASCAR.

“We are encouraging the teams and their guests to allow extra time to get to and from McCormick Place,” she said. Evans said the organization worked with a booking agency that lined up discounted rates at many hotels.

“It’s going to be a very strong weekend,” Jacobson said. “And hotel metrics are not the only measure of success for these events.”

He said he welcomes the promotional opportunity NASCAR affords Chicago and looks forward to its return. NASCAR has a three-year deal with Chicago for the street race.

Some hotels are offering NASCAR-inspired packages, such as Voco Chicago, 350 W. Wolf Point Plaza, which is throwing in a couple train passes, late checkout and drinks as part of its “Speedway Getaway” starting at about $280 per night.

On the budget side, the Ohio House Motel at 600 N. La Salle Drive beckons with open arms and free parking. It’s an old-style roadside motel that seems to have dropped in from a small tourist town.

Operations Manager Paulina Para said the 50-room motel is only about half booked through this weekend. “It’s looking really slow for now. We’re kind of surprised,” she said.

Its rates for the coming weekend generally exceed $200 a night.

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