NASCAR street racing will give Chicago a great opportunity to shine

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

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

Thankfully, Chicago was presented with a unique opportunity to make one bold economic move by becoming the host city for NASCAR's first street race. In just a month, some of the world's most elite athletes will compete through downtown, against a backdrop of our most iconic landmarks, such as the Buckingham Fountain, the Lions of the Arts Institute and the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan.

But this isn't just another chapter in Chicago's rich history as a sports city – it's also big business, and perhaps even an economic and reputational imperative.

Hospitality and tourism are important pillars of our city's fiscal health. Unfortunately, these industries are also one of the sectors that have been hit the hardest during the pandemic.

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

Strengthening Chicago's fiscal outlook

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

It's something we should celebrate. Much like the Democratic National Convention, NASCAR can choose any venue in the world to debut its inaugural Cup Series road race, one of the biggest moves in the league's 75-year history. Many cities want to roll out the red carpet, but NASCAR chose Chicago for a reason.

NASCAR is betting big on Chicago because we are a city like no other. We know how to run an inaugural event, 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 invested over $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 income for workers. This is in addition to $3 million in direct taxes to the city to fund vital services such as public safety, schools, and the pension crisis that looms over us.

But what you can't measure may be the most rewarding of all: two days of live international media and sports coverage that will showcase our city at the height of its summer, making downtown Chicago the star of the race.

At a time when this city is in dire need of a good national storyline, we will have the opportunity to bring the best of what Chicago has to offer to a global audience of millions — driving ongoing interest from potential visitors far beyond race weekends.

The Chicago Street Race is our chance to revive the tourism engine of our economy and help move our economy forward.

With NASCAR coming to Chicago, we are in pole position. It's time to take this opportunity and not take our foot off the gas.

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

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