A city tourism official on Wednesday expressed concern that Chicago's persisting crime problem could be curtailing its push to drastically up tourism revenue, then later backtracked from that statement.
Don Welsh, president and chief executive of Choose Chicago, the city's tourism organization, told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board on Wednesday that his group hopes crime in the city "sunsets quickly because all the good work we're doing regionally, nationally and internationally, if this is not contained in a reasonable period of time, it will have an impact."
Welsh then revealed that his office has been receiving inquiries from meeting planners questioning whether the Second City is a safe destination, particularly as reports of so-called "mob-style" attacks in and near the city's Magnificent Mile shopping district and the city's surging homicide rate have gone national.
Welsh later Wednesday claimed in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times that his comments were "taken out of context," though he did acknowledge that Choose Chicago has fielded "five or six" calls over a period of just over a month from meeting planners anxious about crime in the city.
"They’re asking if these issues are taking place in the downtown area or near McCormick Place and the answer we’ve given them is an emphatic, ‘No,’” Welsh told the Sun-Times.
Welsh went on to call a "mob-style" attack near Michigan Avenue last month an "isolated incident" and maintained that Chicago is "the safest big city in the world." Last week, 11 youths attacked a man leaving the Fourth of July fireworks show in the city's River North neighborhood.
"The shootings we have seen have been almost 100 percent isolated to neighborhoods outside the downtown core of Chicago where tourists and visitors from around the world frequent," Welsh told the paper.
Overnight Thursday, eight people were wounded in shootings throughout Chicago, including a 13-year-old boy who was shot while sitting on the front porch of his family's home around 9:25 p.m. Wednesday, the Chicago Tribune reports. At least 20 people were wounded in non-fatal shootings over the most recent weekend in Chicago.
Earlier this week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy defended the city's crime-fighting strategies amid a homicide rate that is up nearly 38 percent over last year. McCarthy previously described the city's crime problem as, largely, "a perception issue" as overall crime is down.
Chicago is currently in the midst of an aggressive campaign to "dramatically" increase the number of visitors to Chicago -- to 50 million visitors annually by 2020 -- by raising the city's profile as a travel destination internationally. Part of that campaign was a new, official "ode to the city," recorded by Umphrey’s McGee, Buddy Guy and the band Chicago, that baffled many Chicagoans with its awfulness.