DOWNTOWN — Chicago hosted more than 54 million tourists in 2016, a record figure despite the city's reputation for rampant violence.
A day after Chicago made national headlines for being the site of a disturbing torture video posted live to Facebook, city officials offered a piece of good news: a record 54.1 million tourists came to Chicago last year, a figure that's up 1.5 million from last year's record high.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who said Thursday that he may have to raise his goal of 55 million annual visitors, said tourists spent $15 billion in Chicago last year, generating $911 million in local tax revenue.
He credited special events like the NFL Draft and James Beard Awards for drawing in tourists, but also looked forward to the future Obama Presidential Library as a "tremendous investment and down payment" on Chicago's standing as a destination city. The Riverwalk, which is courting restaurants for next summer and beyond, also promises to boost future tourism.
"I want to thank you all, take a deep breath, but 2017 has to beat 2016," he said.
Lori Healey, chief executive of the agency that owns McCormick Place, offered another bright spot: visits to Chicago's biggest convention center returned to pre-recession 2004 levels last year. The number should go up again this year.
The announcement arrived after a brutal year for Chicago police, who fielded more than 700 murder investigations in 2016 while being scrutinized for shooting unarmed people. Chicago violence was the focus of a recent "60 Minutes" episode and President-elect Donald Trump repeatedly compared Chicago to war-torn countries during his successful bid for the White House.
Despite the violence, city officials say they have every reason to believe tourism will continue to climb in 2017.
Justice Department investigation
Emanuel also fielded a question Thursday about the Justice Department's investigation of the Chicago Police Department, which will reportedly be released next week. Emanuel, who was asked how he's bracing for the forthcoming report, said he doesn't "usually get ahead of the Justice Department," but that police work to restore trust in the city's neighborhoods "is not finished."
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