Chicago’s tourism set for boost from Chicago Marathon

Mayor Emmanuel speaks at the kick off press conference. Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski (right) and Bank of America Illinois President sit behind.
Mayor Emanuel speaks at the kick off press conference. Nick Kariuki/Medill


by Nick Kariuki

Sunday’s 37th Annual Bank of America Chicago Marathon will bring energy and excitement for the competitors and the crowds who come to watch them.  It also promises to bring something else:  a quarter of a billion dollars in money for local businesses and attractions.

Last year’s marathon contributed an estimated $253.49 million in business activity to the Chicago economy, according to a recent independent study conducted by the University of Illinios at Urbana-Champaign’s Regional Economics Applications Laboratory.

The money, spent by an estimated 1.7 million race watchers and 45,000 runners,  gets spread around.  Cab drivers.  Hotel operators.  Restaurant and bar waitstaff.  Stores along the race route.  Even the city’s museums benefit.

In fact, the marathon generates the equivalent of 1,742 full-time jobs, according to the U of I study, which was sponsored by Bank of America.

In large part, the financial boost the race brings to the city comes from the big number of people who come, from far and wide, for the event.  The marathon helps to “elevate Chicago as a global destination,” Mary May with the city’s department of cultural affairs and special events, said in an interview.

Among the 45,000 runners registered in this year’s race will be 17,139 out-of-state runners, as well as 10,544 international participants, race officials say.

“You’re going to see people from a hundred-plus countries show what the human spirit is about,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at Thursday’s kick-off press conference.

After running 26.2 miles, the marathoners don’t appear eager to leave straightaway.  Last year’s visiting participants stayed for an average of 3.8 days, the study found.

“In a lot of cases people are here for the first time and they see what a wonderful destination Chicago is,”  executive race director Carey Pinkowski told Thursday’s audience.

Even the Chicago Art Institute is bracing for a greater influx of visitors.  In partnership with Bank of America, the last three days of the Magritte exhibition will offer free entrance for runners, with a guest.  Museum management chose the October 13 closing date of the high-profile Magritte show with the date of the race consciously in mind, said the Institute’s director of public affairs, Rebecca Baldwin.