Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s latest idea to boost Chicago’s tourism numbers involves finding a company to light up city bridges, buildings, CTA platforms and other locations to hopefully “transform the world’s opinion of Chicago” and convince people to visit and stay here longer.
The city has put out a request for proposals for a “city-wide lighting framework plan” to highlight Chicago as “an iconic metropolis.”
Bidders should particularly consider ways to light up bridges in the city over the Chicago River, the riverwalk, the CTA's elevated train system and Lower Wacker Drive, according to the documents released this week by the Department of Procurement.
The city also urges those interested to come with plans to light up “iconic structures,” listing Willis Tower, Aqua Tower, the modern wing addition at the Art Institute and the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park as examples of notable Chicago architecture that might benefit from a little brightening.
The bid documents feature nighttime photos of Paris, “the City of Lights,” though the French capital has taken steps in recent years to turn down the wattage in order to save energy and reduce light pollution.
Emanuel has made it a high priority to boost Chicago’s standing in the worldwide fight for tourist dollars, and the bid document predicts the light plan could help.
“The search for a design team is an important part of the mayor’s initiatives for the City and Choose Chicago,” the request for proposal states. “The goal of these initiatives is to highlight the city as an iconic metropolis and as a world-class destination for national and international tourists.”
It’s unclear how much the lighting network would cost, how much electricity it would use or how the cash-strapped city would pay for it. City spokeswoman Eve Rodriguez said the bidding process is meant to generate ideas. “If a firm puts forward ideas that excite the city and enhance value for local residents, we would engage private partners about funding the project,” Rodriguez said in an email.
Audrey Fischer, a director of the Chicago Astronomical Society and a longtime fighter against light pollution, called Emanuel’s plan “totally misguided.” Chicagoans need fewer lights shining in their bedroom windows after dark and blotting out the stars, not a huge new source of light, she said.
“(Emanuel) has this ambition to make Chicago a world class city. He’s willing to use these lights to lure tourists in like spotlights lure in bugs, and he wants to do it at the expense of the citizens who live here,” she said. “If he wants to be a leader he should lead on the movement to turn down the artificial light.”
Rodriguez said the aim of the project is not to make the city brighter. “Lighting design is not about creating more light, but using light more efficiently to enhance various parts of the city. Any final design must be energy efficient and respect migratory bird patterns,” she said in the email.
Chicago's bid points out that in six international cities that lots of travelers visit — London, Barcelona, Madrid, Edinburgh, Prague and Berlin — there are clear pathways of light connecting areas frequented by tourists.
Here, by contrast, there are “a series of approximately seven disconnected clusters”: Navy Pier, the John Hancock building, Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River, Millennium Park, Willis Tower, Buckingham Fountain and the museum campus.
“Chicago currently offers many unique tourist experiences. The (lighting framework plan) will create connections between these elements that encourage tourists to explore the city’s neighborhoods — to help them in navigating and extending their tourist experience — establishing Chicago as a place to spend a few days, not just a few hours,” the bid documents read.
Responses are due by July 7.