PULLMAN — Designating Pullman a national historic park would bring far more than a park ranger in a funny hat to the Far South Side neighborhood, a new study says.
Some 300,000 visitors per year can be expected if legislation naming Pullman a national park is approved, according to a report released Tuesday by a privately funded advocacy group.
George Pullman revolutionized rail travel with his Pullman Palace Car Co. The plant where Pullman's signature sleeper cars were manufactured and the adjacent factory town are already local tourist destinations.
Bringing the spotlight of a national park designation would increase the number of visitors tenfold, said Lynn McClure, Midwest director for the National Parks Conservation Association, which released the study with support from the City of Chicago and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
The surge in tourism would translate to 356 jobs created, or $15 million in wages. The Pullman National Historic Park could also generate as much as $40 million in economic activity, mostly coming from increased visitor spending, the report concludes.
"This [report] is the last remaining piece before we can move legislation to become a national park," McClure said.
She, along with local legislators and community groups, pointed to the findings of the latest economic impact study to urge U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Chicago) to craft federal legislation that would establish the Pullman National Historic Park.
These federal lawmakers already have expressed support for the Pullman plan. Now, the goal is to have legislation drafted and approved over the next year, said David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives — a community development group that's been active in the Pullman neighborhood.
"It will bring tourism spending, the opportunity to access federal infrastructure dollars and private investment, all of which are much needed here," Doig said.
There's some urgency to the latest push, as supporters of the project say it's imperative to have legislation approved during President Barack Obama's tenure. Obama was active as a community organizer in the Pullman area early in his career.
Should there be any hang-up in the legislation, Obama could force the issue by using the American Antiquities Act of 1906. This law gives Obama the power to make Pullman a national park with the stroke of his pen.
However, the popular belief is that legislation supporting Pullman's national park designation will pass both the House and Senate before landing on the president's desk. Much of this optimism stems from the bipartisan group of lawmakers supporting the effort, Doig said.
"Now, lawmakers just need to do their thing," Doig said.
For Mark Konkol's take on what the park designation would mean to his neighborhood, click here.