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millennium park concert on the lawn
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

Millennium Park has become the Midwest's top tourist attraction

Written by
Jonathan Samples

Millennium Park has always been a favorite stop for Chicagoans, but the park is now among the most popular attractions in the country. On Thursday, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events announced new attendance statistics that show Millennium Park was the number one attraction in the Midwest last year and one of the 10 most-visited tourist sites in the U.S.

Using passive electronic sensors, a third party vendor estimates that approximately 12.9 million people wandered the park in the second half of 2016—a massive jump from previous estimates, which suggested around 5 million annual visitors. The new attendance-counting technology is similar to methods used at other major events around the globe, and the updated visitor numbers put Millennium Park right up there with New York's Central Park and the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Millennium Park has become part of the cultural fabric of Chicago, bringing children and families together from all parts of the city to experience world class culture for free,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. News of the park's growing popularity was certainly welcomed by Chicago's mayor, who would like to see tourism numbers reach 55 million visitors annually by 2020. In January, the city announced that Chicago broke a tourism record in 2016, with 54.1 million out-of-towners making the trek to the city.

Dubbed Chicago’s town square by city officials, Millennium Park is already the site of popular attractions such as the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Anish Kapoor's 110-ton Cloud Gate (“The Bean”), the dynamic Crown Fountain video sculpture and the 2.5-acre Lurie Garden. But a revamped lineup of programs and events could make 2017 an even bigger year for the park. The Chicago Blues Festival will make its inaugural appearance in Millennium Park this June, along with hundreds of other free cultural events, such as the annual Summer Music Series.

Other highlights on this year’s schedule:

- Chicago House Music Celebration—May 27
- Chicago Gospel Music Festival—June 2, 3
- Lurie Garden Plant Sale—June 3
- Millennium Park Summer Film Series—(Tuesdays) June 13–Aug 30
- Chicago Mariachi Festival—June 25
- Fifth Star Honors tribute concert—Aug 28
- Chicago Jazz Festival—Aug 31–Sept 3
- Stars of Lyric Opera concert—Sept 8
- World Music Festival Chicago—Sept 9, 16

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