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Want to save downtown Chicago? Make it easier for more people to live in the Loop

It’s major wasted opportunity that relatively few people live in the one part of Chicago where it’s easy to get to just about anywhere else in the region by train. Image: Google Maps

A recent piece in Crain's by Ally Marotti argued that "'If Michigan Avenue is dead, Chicago is dead': With the exit of Macy's and other retailers, the Mag Mile needs to be reinvented." The article notes that retail space occupancy on the Magnificent Mile has been dropping in recent years, and the pandemic and economic downturn has accelerated that trend. The occupancy rate will get worse with the impending departure of Macy's and the Gap.

Various experts Marotti interviewed said the solution to Michigan Avenue's waning fortunes is to do more to make spending time there a unique experience you can't get from shopping online. Suggestions included indoor and outdoor galleries and installations, live theater, street performers, and outdoor dining. They also pointed to the need for more pedestrian space, ala New York City's Times Square makeover. These are all good ideas.

"If the answer is retail, we may be in trouble," said Paul O'Connor the founding director of the economic development agency World Business Chicago. "But if the answer is making Michigan Avenue one of the coolest urban experiences in the United States of America, that's a game we can play." The experts say that more big, flashy retail chain flagship stores like the giant Starbucks and the slick Apple store will be part of the solution.

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