Students downtown climb 25 percent in last five years

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • June 10, 2009 @ 12:00 PM

The number of university students and workers in downtown Chicago has increased 25 percent since 2004, making higher education a dominant force in the Loop, a new survey shows.

The analysis of higher education downtown found there are now 65,000 students. In addition, there are 15,000 employees who have a combined payroll of $403 million.

“We feel this is encouraging news for Chicago,” says Ty Tabing, the executive director of the Chicago Loop Alliance. “At a time when most economic sectors are shrinking, the education sector in Chicago continues to expand and grow.”

About 20 percent of the students going to classes downtown also live in the area, helping push restaurants and cafes to stay open later in the evening.

“This area has become more of a traditional college campus and less of the commuter campus that it was previously,” Tabing says.

The survey of 3,000 students was commissioned by the Chicago Loop Alliance, a business advocacy group, and conducted by DePaul University’s marketing department. The results are important for businesses looking for ways to lure students though their doors.

The Loop Alliance counts 23 colleges, universities and professional vocational schools in the downtown area. Among the largest are DePaul University, Roosevelt University, Columbia College and Harold Washington College. The survey does not include Loyola University’s Water Tower campus or Northwestern University’s campus a mile north, near Michigan Avenue.

At a panel this morning, several experts in higher education and downtown business agreed that businesses could offer students more discounts.

“Based on what we’ve heard over the years, a lot of opportunities just haven’t been publicized to the students,” says Janet Carl Smith, the deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs.

The survey also pointed out room for improvement in several areas, like nighttime safety, the availability of bars and cafes open late at night, and the desire among students for a student center that would serve multiple schools.

While the survey found that half of students feel very safe during the day, just 10 percent feel the same way at night.

“The daytime is great,” says Suzanne Fogel, the chair of DePaul’s marketing department, which conducted the survey. “If you look at nighttime, people feel less safe.”

And the figures from this year’s survey show that students don’t feel any more safe at night than they did five years ago, Fogel says.

“Communicating about safety issues and where to go at certain times, we constantly have to keep that message in from of them,” says DePaul marketing professor Steven Kelly.

For years, students have been asking for more options downtown for late-night activities. While many coffee shops are open until 10 p.m. or later on some nights, that’s not enough, says Michael Perry, a recent Roosevelt graduate and the manager of a Segway tour operation.

“For late-night activities, there’s definitely a lot of traffic going up to the North Side,” Perry says.

Just as it was a decade ago, when students complained that the Loop was a ghost town at night, Perry says, the main bars are still Miller’s Pub and Exchequer Restaurant.

“We have not seen a lot of retailers looking to fill that space for particularly late night venues,” says real estate developer David Dewey. “I think that they need to know more about the population down here, that there is the demand.”

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.