State of Suburbs: Entertainment a big business

  • People enjoy the evening walking around Rosemont's MB Financial Park.

      People enjoy the evening walking around Rosemont's MB Financial Park. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • The Arcada Theater in St. Charles has doubled its attendance in the last 30 months, drawing national acts.

      The Arcada Theater in St. Charles has doubled its attendance in the last 30 months, drawing national acts. Daily Herald File Photo by John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • The Schaumburg Boomers minor league baseball team has won two titles and is setting attendance records.

      The Schaumburg Boomers minor league baseball team has won two titles and is setting attendance records. Daily Herald File Photo by Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • RiverEdge Park in Aurora is drawing large national acts.

    RiverEdge Park in Aurora is drawing large national acts. Daily Herald File Photo

  • A historical landmark palace, The Paramount Theatre boasts of beauty and opulence offering no obstructed views, impeccable acoustics and comfortable seats.

    A historical landmark palace, The Paramount Theatre boasts of beauty and opulence offering no obstructed views, impeccable acoustics and comfortable seats.

 
 
Updated 8/29/2015 1:25 PM

Once largely a convention town, Rosemont now draws more than 1 million visitors a year with an entertainment district that buzzes with splashy new developments.

Country music superstar Garth Brooks opened his first national tour in 16 years here, and one of the Kardashians made an appearance in Rosemont earlier this year.

 

It's among several success stories that have revitalized the suburban entertainment scene, no longer making it necessary to trek into the city for fun and culture.

In 2015, many suburban entertainment venues found themselves thriving. Several malls and theaters are remodeling and expanding. Minor league baseball teams are setting attendance records. More gourmet and ethnic restaurants have opened. And on any given weekend, you can do things like indoor sky diving, stop by festivals featuring everything from fairies to craft beer, or see a well-known '70s or '80s band perform.

There has never been a bigger or better variety of things to do in the suburbs.

Rosemont, in particular, has experienced a boom with its MB Financial Park and Fashion Outlets of Chicago. The winter skating rink alone -- despite a bitterly cold winter -- drew 25,000 people. The park has been so successful, more development is on the way.

"You build it, and they will come," said Bill Anderson, manager of Rosemont's Convention & Tourism Bureau, who credits the vision of Mayor Bradley Stephens for the suburb's success. "It was risky, but it worked. People are very happy. (People from) the suburbs of Chicago are now enjoying Rosemont."

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There is big fun in other suburbs, too. Here are some of the suburban entertainment venues that have made great strides this year:

Rosemont

There's a lot packed into this 3-square-mile town -- bars, restaurants, hotels, an arena, theaters, free concerts, regular fireworks shows and much more.

It's made Rosemont one of the hottest entertainment districts in the Midwest. The new indoor sky diving business, iFly, is booking a month in advance on weekends.

"I thought, $79 for three minutes? Who's going to do that? But people are coming out. They're booked ... because it's really fun," Anderson said.

Arcada Theatre

Arcada President and CEO Ron Onesti has taken a 900-seat 1920s theater in St. Charles and transformed it into a popular, go-to destination for music lovers. In the past 30 months, the theater has hit its stride and doubled attendance. Most shows feature bands from the '60s, '70s and '80s, such as Foreigner, Kansas and The Lovin' Spoonful. But it consistently brings in national acts of all kinds, including stars like Debbie Reynolds, Buddy Guy and Jenny McCarthy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Onesti attributes the theater's success to an aggressive marketing strategy aimed at a niche audience -- middle-aged classic rock fans, like himself -- rather than trying to be everything to everybody.

"That's the demographic that's buying tickets," he said. "When it comes to the classics -- the 1964-1979 genre -- no one's doing it more (than Arcada). People find this to be the musical home. And I value that relationship with our customers."

Minor league baseball

The Schaumburg Boomers and the Kane County Cougars both have been setting attendance records, and the Boomers have won two straight Frontier League titles. So besides good baseball in pleasant venues, crowds are coming out for the fun, family-friendly environments packed with pre-, mid- and postgame entertainment.

With tickets in the $10 range and free parking, it costs a fraction of what you'd pay to see a major league game -- a home run for many suburban residents.

Others of note

Other entertainment venues places making noteworthy progress this past year:

RiverEdge Park: A grassy spot along the Fox River in Aurora has been transformed into a delightful, bring-your-own-chair outdoor music venue, drawing bigger acts than ever in 2015, including Hall & Oates and Trombone Shorty.

Paramount Theatre: The Aurora theater is having a stellar year. It has expanded its offerings, and shows are consistently receiving kudos from critics. This is the first year they're eligible to win a prestigious Jeff Award, and that could happen when the winners are announced this fall.

Grand Victoria Casino: The Elgin casino is planning to build a $10 million-plus "Ravinia-like" outdoor concert venue next year, after a successful summer concert-in-the-park series with performers such as George Thorogood, Heart, Peter Frampton and Huey Lewis and the News.

Downtown Naperville: There is a variety of development going on in downtown Naperville, including a new park along the Riverwalk and new businesses in the Water Street District. The nearby Freedom Commons is booming, too.

Long Grove: The demand for its festivals -- featuring chocolate, strawberries, apples and all sorts of other good stuff -- remains strong in the quaint, 19th Century downtown area.

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