Lonely Planet Writer

Chicago set to get glass gondolas that will see tourists ride high above the Windy City

A group of Chicago’s business leaders is considering the benefits of building a line of aerial gondolas as part of a plan to grow tourism in the city.

The gondolas would showcase the city’s architecture
The gondolas would showcase the city’s architecture. Image by: Mark Barfield Architects and Davis Brody Bond

In a presentation made to the City Club of Chicago last week, prominent entertainment and hospitality industry figures Laurence Geller and Lou Raizin outlined a plan to grow tourism in the Windy City to 76 million visitors every year, an increase of 50% on current numbers.

Called the Skyline in reference to the city’s other major public transport lines, the gondolas would link Navy Pier and Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue, showcasing the city’s architecture and encouraging visitors to explore without cars. The clear pods, described by architect David Marks of Marks Barfield Architects as “jewels on a necklace”, would carry up to 3000 people per hour in both directions at 14.5kmh (9mph) in almost all weather conditions, day and night, on a half-hour ride 17 storeys above the Chicago River’s south bank. Tickets are projected to cost around US$20.

The clear pods have been described as “jewels on a necklace”
The clear pods have been described as “jewels on a necklace”

The gondolas were one of a number of suggestions, which also included redesigning night-time lighting to highlight city features, improving streetscapes, improving public transport to and from the airports, performance and spectator barges on the river, connecting visitors and locals alike with the city’s various distinctive neighbourhoods, and a new entertainment district in the Cermak corridor.

But the centerpiece of the presentation was without doubt the gondolas. “We kept coming back to the same question: What’s our unique feature? Where’s our Eiffel Tower? Where’s our Big Ben? These ideas are our attempt to answer this question,” said Raizin, who believes the Skyline would bring an extra 1.4 million visitors to Chicago. He estimates the Skyline’s cost at US$250 million, “not one dime” of which would come from government coffers – good news for a city with long-term budget issues.

The proposed half-hour ride is 17 storeys above Chicago River’s south bank.

The proposal was made just weeks after City Hall celebrated its declared goal of bringing 50 million visitors to the city in a calendar year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last month that, in 2015, Chicago attracted 50.97 million domestic visitors, a figure that may reach 52 million once international tourists are factored in. Almost 80% of these were leisure visitors. The growth created just under 140,000 jobs in the city last year.