Tourism can be an important source of revenue for many municipalities. Some cities, like San Francisco, have made it a staple industry. Other cities, notably those in the Rust Belt, have tried and failed to tap into the tourism market. Let’s examine some of the successes and failures.
Autoworld was built in the city of Flint to try and revive the economic conditions of the city during a painful period of de-industrialization. Pared with a convention center it was hoped by city leaders that tourism would revitalize the city. Both Autoworld and the convention center closed as miserable failures.
As the Urbanophile has so wonderfully examined for us, Cleveland’s more comprehensive approach was less a miserable failure but still ineffective at reviving the city or easing the economic woes. Building a museum and waterfront is nice but ultimately one geared towards tourism is an expensive bandaid that does little to ameliorate the salient problems facing the city.
Chicago’s Millennium Park and Navy Pier are recent renovations to the city’s pre-existing museum campus downtown. Combined with Shedd aquarium, Adler Planetarium, and the Field Museums the city’s downtown has enough attractions of note that Chicago is sometimes considered a tourist destination. But let us consider this a bit further and ask why Chicago’s endeavors were more successful than some neighboring cities.
When Mayor Daley the second decided to build Millennium Park the plan was to build a park for the residents of Chicago. Without specifically catering to tourists, Daley worked with local magnates to procure private donates to offset much of the costs.
Likewise Navy Pier was not originally constructed as a tourist destination at all. Rather it was created to facilitate commercial interests and the needs of city residents and only later re-purposed as a place of retailers that cater to a tourist crowd.
In fact many of the most successful tourist attractions in Chicago were not built with the intention of gathering tourists. Instead they were built either for commercial purpose or to cater to city residents. Perhaps there is a lesson here. Midwestern cities should not use municipal funds to try and build tourist attractions. Rather, they should focus on building civic institutions that meet the needs of residents and commercial interests. If these are successful or successfully repurposed they can eventually become a place of interest that attracts tourists.