Jim Garrett

Jim Garrett is president and CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Several tourism-related projects of note are under way in Chicago's south suburbs that will have an impact far beyond our borders.

The Tinley Park Convention Center has completed Phase One of its expansion project. The west and north pavilions and north breakout rooms now are open for business as contractors work on the second and third phases: the building's new facade, interior and exterior branding and electronic video signage and interior hallway improvements.

The newly expanded Tinley Park Convention Center doubles the size of the former facility, allowing the management company and the sales team to offer considerably larger spaces for trade shows, conventions, seminars and events. Some 1,400 free parking spaces also are available, alleviating the high cost of parking when compared to nearby convention centers.

A 202-room, full-service Holiday Inn Hotel connects to the Tinley Park Convention Center, with an additional 668 hotel rooms available nearby. The entire project will be complete by June.

The convention center area has spurred additional development with numerous restaurants nearby and several new additions along Tinley Park's Oak Park Avenue restaurant and entertainment district. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by to take a look. You'll like what you see!

Another project that will have a great impact on the south suburbs and the entire metropolitan region is construction of the interchange between Interstates 57 and 294. This long-overdue project will make it easier for residents, visitors and truckers to make the connection from I-294, which rings the metro area, to downtown Chicago and south central Illinois. This project also will alleviate traffic congestion on 159th Street through Markham from one expressway to another.

Preliminary work is under way to widen the bridge over I-294 to handle the addition of ramps at a later date. Please slow down in the construction zone along I-294.

Finally, if you've driven along Harlem Avenue lately you've probably noticed the street and signage improvements and landscaping happening along the corridor from 63rd Street south to Interstate 80. These improvements are part of the Harlem Avenue Corridor Plan, a project developed by the Southwest Conference of Mayors and the 10 communities along Harlem Avenue in the south suburbs.

Streetscape improvements along Harlem Avenue have made the corridor more visually appealing to visitors and residents alike. On the project's northern boundary, landscaping near Toyota Park has improved the look and feel of the stadium campus, and median work in Tinley Park near the project's southern boundary has enhanced the approach to the convention center.

As the long winter season thankfully comes to an end, these projects and our summer festivals, concerts and sporting events are guaranteed to attract new visitors and have a positive impact on the local economy. Join us in welcoming these visitors to the region by showing them our hospitality!

Jim Garrett is president/CEO of the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.