December 4, 2014

Michael Samm

Chicago experienced eight consecutive months of record hotel performance in 2014-a sign of the continued growth of Chicago's tourism industry.  As one of the fastest growing domestic markets for new hotel development and the host city for a variety of major events and ceremonies, including the 2015 NFL Draft, James Beard Foundation Awards and the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final, Chicago is poised for continued success in the New Year.

The city will be bustling with spectacular cultural events, newly developed parks and public spaces, new conventions, highly-anticipated hotel openings and renovations, along with epic sporting events and stellar affairs highlighting Chicago's culinary excellence.  Looking ahead to the New Year, here are 15 reasons to visit Chicago in 2015.

1. New luxe and hip hotels (ongoing)

The much-anticipated and creatively mysterious Virgin Hotel Chicago is slated to open in January 2015. Not only is this the first ever Virgin Hotel in the world, but Chicago is also the launch market for the brand's latest endeavor in hospitality. Located one block off Michigan Avenue, the hotel will occupy the historic art deco Dearborn Bank Building and feature 250 rooms with a vibe that follows the hip, fresh brand created by Sir Richard Branson. Four restaurants including two on the street-level, a rooftop bar, a dynamic hybrid bar/lounge, a laid back study and a restaurant called the Commons Club will all be open to the public and hotel guests. Just a couple of months following the launch of the Virgin Hotel Chicago, the Loews Chicago Hotel will open its doors (March). Situated just north of the Chicago River, in the heart of the city, the new and luxurious Loews Chicago Hotel will be part of a highly visible 52-story tower with incredible city skyline and lake views from its 400 guestrooms (including 23 suites) as well as its indoor and outdoor meeting spaces.

2. Inaugural International Puppet Theater Festival (January 14 - 25)

Today, puppetry is a living and thriving art; this Festival is a celebration of its many forms. More than a dozen Chicago presenting organizations have joined together to ignite the spirit of this citywide event, which spans 10 days and features artists from abroad, across the nation, and unique work born here in Chicago - fresh from the soil! The Festival features public performances across the city, a symposium hosted at the University of Chicago, and classes and workshops leading up to and during the Festival. For those whose imaginations are curious and whose hearts are young, this will be a worthwhile experience. And for those who have yet to see a contemporary puppet show, this is an experience like nothing you've ever seen before.

3. Chicago Restaurant Week (January 30 - February 12)

Get ready for 14 belt-busting days! Chicago Restaurant Week 2015 returns on January 30 and continues through February 12 with two weeks of dining deals. The annual culinary celebration features special prix fixe menus starting at $22 for lunch and $33 and/or $44 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity). Over 250 restaurants participate, so get a taste of the city's rich, culinary diversity: Italian, French, Spanish, Korean, Thai and more! Between the neighborhood favorites and downtown hotspots, you can feast on delicious multi-course menus all across the city and suburbs.

4. Chicago Theatre Week (February 12 - 22)

Chicago Theatre Week 2015 is a celebration of Chicago's distinguished theatre scene. Presented by the League of Chicago Theatres in partnership with Choose Chicago, Chicago Theatre Week is returning for its third year and will take place February 12-22. Visitors and residents will again have the opportunity to choose from more than 100 productions and sample the extraordinary range of theatrical offerings throughout Chicago.

5. Chicago Chinese New Year (February 15 - March 5)

Chicago will celebrate Chinese New Year 2015 with special events citywide from February 15 through March 5. The celebration kicks off February 15 as Symphony Center Presents offers a special concert titled Sounds of China: A Chinese New Year Celebration featuring virtuoso soloists from the National Chinese Traditional Orchestra and musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. On February 19 the Chinese Fine Arts Society will host a celebration at the Chicago Cultural Center. The celebration will continue with a Chinese New Year Parade on February 22, and a Lantern Festival on March 1st at Navy Pier. Chicago's Chinatown is the second largest in the U.S. - and with Choose Chicago aggressively promoting this successful event - travelers from across the nation and China are expected. Cultural performances and demonstrations, along with special hotel, retail and restaurants promotions are all part of the celebration.

6. 2015 NFL Draft (April 30 - May 2)

Nothing sells hope to fans of all 32 American Football teams like the NFL draft, and in just a few short months the League will bring that hope - and all the accompanying hoopla - to Chicago. The Draft, which for the last nine years has been conducted in New York's Radio City Music Hall, will move to Chicago and be held at Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre April 30 through May 2 with a fan festival to be held at nearby Grant Park.

7. Microsoft Ignite (May 4-8)

In May of 2015, Microsoft will "Spark the Future" at Microsoft Ignite, a new convention that will bring together the best and brightest minds to one place to talk cloud infrastructure and management, productivity, big data and the internet of things, unified communications, mobility and more. Microsoft Ignite is estimated to attract approximately 20,000 visitors to Chicago and bring in more than $47 million in estimated spending. So welcome, thinkers. And get ready for a glimpse at what's possible today and in the future.

8. James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala Reception (May 4)

For its 25th anniversary, and for the first time in its history, the James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony and Gala will leave New York City and set up shop in Chicago. Covering all aspects of the industry - from chefs and restaurateurs, cookbook authors and food journalists to restaurant designers, architects and more - the Beard Awards are the highest honor for food and beverage professionals working in North America. Nominees and winners are fêted at a weekend of events that has become the social and gastronomic highlight of the year. Chicago has been part of the Foundation's history, delivering restaurant and chef winners 23 out of 24 years.  In its 25th year the James Beard Foundation Awards Ceremony, which is open to the public, will be held at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on May 4, 2015, followed by a Gala Reception.

9. Best New Restaurant Openings & Concepts in 2015 (Ongoing)

There's no doubt that Chicago's vibrant gastronomic offering has drawn attention from foodies everywhere. Chicago's culinary scene is a star-laden community of remarkably talented and collaborative chefs who've earned international placements on the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list, recognition by the James Beard Foundation Awards nearly every year since the awards were inaugurated, along with 83 selections in the 2015 Chicago Michelin Guide. Looking ahead to the New Year, Chicago awaits a continuation of this culinary success with major restaurant openings throughout the city. Chef Kevin Hickey will open the highly anticipated The Duck Inn in Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood. A chef known for his creative twists on local cuisine, Hickey will introduce to the city - and the world - a little something he likes to call the "Foie Gras tamale." Formento's will be another knock out set to open in the West Loop, inspired by a ‘50s red sauce joint; Chef Tony Quartaro is young, hungry and incredibly talented, as he's shown in his kitchen mastery at Chicago's award-winning Bristol and Balena. Also in the West Loop, the unstoppable duo Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (of Alinea, Next and The Aviary) are developing a project which promises to be unique in concept and resonant in originality. Chicago's West Loop has truly become the city's hottest dining district, and will only continue to flourish in the New Year.

10. Expanded green space & public places (Ongoing)

The accessibility and availability of open green spaces is an integral part of the city's 1909 Plan of Chicago, often referred to as The Burnham Plan. To fulfill city planner Daniel Burnham's wish for Chicago, 2015 will bring more parks and shared open space for locals and visitors to enjoy. Below are the highlights for the year: 

The Grant Park Skate Park (December 2014)

This three-acre, $2.65 million skate park, designed by landscape architecture firm Altamanu, will open in December 2014, before the New Year officially commences, for avid skaters and stunt bikers who want to practice and polish their skills. Located in the city's South Loop, near the East 11th Street Pedestrian Bridge, the skate park will draw skaters from around the city, and especially the nearby colleges and universities including Columbia College and Roosevelt University. The Chicago Park District bought the 1.9 acres needed for the park from the city for $1.

Maggie Daley Park (Spring)

Named for the Chicago first lady who succumbed to breast cancer in 2011, the 27-acre, $60 million Maggie Daley Park replaces Daley Bicentennial Plaza, a 1979 park built atop a parking garage in Grant Park's northeast corner. The piano-shaped park also offers some pointed contrasts with Millennium Park to its west. Rather than straight paths and animated throngs, the new park will have meandering walkways and quiet places for picnicking nestled in gently sloping "lawn valleys." Yet it will also harbor state-of-the-art play areas, including a skating ribbon (scheduled to open mid-December 2014), jagged climbing structures that will rise as high as 40 feet and a three-acre play garden brimming with wood towers and other equipment you won't find in your local park.

The Chicago Riverwalk (Spring)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls it Chicago's second coast, and since he first took office in 2011 has worked to revitalize and draw attention to the scenic downtown riverfront. Envisioned as a continuous, water-level walkway that would allow pedestrians to walk from State Street, around the northwest corner of The Loop, down to Lake Street without having to climb a single stairway or cross a street, the Riverwalk project is scheduled to open in spring 2015.

The 606 Park (June)

What was previously a relic of Chicago's industrial past is being converted into an urban oasis called The 606, a 2.7 mile, multi-use recreational trail and park along an elevated, unused rail line on Chicago's west side. The 606 will bring together arts, history, design, trails for bikers, runners, and walkers, event spaces, alternative transportation avenues, and green, open space for locals and visitors alike. Once completed, The 606 will be the longest elevated park system in the world.

11. Robot Revolution at the Museum of Science and Industry (Spring 2015)

No longer a far off reality or science fiction plot line, robots are set to play a vital role in our daily lives, and the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) will show the world how. This new touring exhibit, created by MSI with the support of Google, is set to premiere in Spring 2015 and will offer visitors the unique opportunity to see and interact with 40 robots rarely seen by the public. Through the exhibit, guests can explore five key areas of robotics: cooperation, smarts, skills, locomotion and assembly (a.k.a. Build-a-Bot). Discover how human and robots interact and experience first-hand the ingenuity and incredible possibilities provided by robotics. Other highlights of Robot Revolution include a chair that can assemble and disassemble itself, a furry baby seal robot known as PARO that is used for therapy with the elderly and autistic children, a robot by the name of TOPY Crawler that is designed to take on places and circumstances too dangerous for humans, among other fascinating displays.   

12. The Royal Ballet Performs "Don Quixote" at the Auditorium Theater (June 18-21)

The Auditorium Theatre closes its 125th Anniversary Season by bringing The Royal Ballet back to Chicago after a 37-year absence. Led by Director Kevin O'Hare, the company will present Carlos Acosta's production of Don Quixote, which The Guardian says "rediscover(s) the ballet's fun" and DanceLondon says "Acosta has done a fine job in giving The Royal Ballet's (Don Quixote) a completely new lease on life." The company makes its Auditorium debut during a three-city tour of the U.S. that includes The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. 

13. Chicago Architecture Biennial (October-December)

The inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial-an international forum on architecture and the designed environment-will open in Chicago in the fall of 2015. The Biennial titled The State of the Art of Architecture, will bring the world's leading architectural talent together to explore the ideas, ambitions, and challenges facing the contemporary city in an age of accelerated change. Featuring the work of both established and emerging architects, the Biennial will address the major concerns of our time: the social, environmental, aesthetic, technological, and economic issues that shape the world we live in.  The Biennial's main exhibition will be held in the Chicago Cultural Center showcasing the work of established and emerging architecture from across the globe. Programming will also include events and educational seminars, as well as projects and public programs developed by local and world-renowned artist Theaster Gates.

14. ITU World Triathlon Grand Final (September 15 - 20)

The City of Chicago joined the ITU World Triathlon Series in 2014 and will host the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Grand Final and World Championships in September 2015. Chicago will welcome 150 of the world's top Olympic-distance triathletes as they compete for a world championship title less than a year prior to the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. In addition to the elite races, the event features top-flight sprint and Olympic-distance races for age-group athletes, paratriathletes, juniors, under-23s, a junior/U23 mixed team relay, as well as an aquathlon to kick off the action. In total, nearly 6,000 amateur athletes will compete for world titles in the same epic venue as the world's best elite athletes.

15. Uniqlo (Fall)

Uniqlo's Chicago opening will at long last become a reality in fall of 2015. The Japanese retailer will occupy the space above Topshop on the Magnificent Mile (830 N. Michigan), marking the company's first Midwest location and the second-largest in the U.S. after its Fifth Avenue flagship in New York. Uniqlo was founded in Hiroshima in 1984 and was originally called Unique Clothing Warehouse with more than 1,400 stores in 16 markets worldwide.

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