Measuring the Impact of Downtown Special Events

Community events are one of the defining characteristics of Naperville. They offer residents and visitors an opportunity to experience entertainment, activities and cultural celebrations while also fostering Naperville's civic pride and community spirit. However, at times, these events can present challenges to residents and businesses. In 2018, a study was undertaken to assess the economic and parking impacts that events have on downtown Naperville. The study provides an overview of the history of special events in and around the downtown since 2009 and includes a limited economic examination of those events. A detailed analysis of special events and associated parking is included for 2016 and 2017, and events hosted at Naper Settlement, specifically Christkindlmarket, are examined.
  • Special events, parking and consumer spending all peak during late summer/early fall and again during the holidays.
  • Spending in the downtown continues to increase, even as the number of events increases.
  • Downtown parking follows predictable patterns driven by the day of the week, time of day and the weather.
  • Special events tend to have greater impact on the nearest parking facilities. The largest events have the most visible and widespread parking impacts.
  • Christkindlmarket has a limited effect on nearby parking and little discernible effect on businesses. 
  • Sixty-one percent of non-residents attending Christkindlmarket visit the market only.

Special Events

The number and type of events that take place in the downtown area has fluctuated over the years. To be included in this analysis, events must meet two criteria: (1) they must require approval from the City, and (2) they must occur downtown or close enough to potentially impact downtown visitors.
Note that events are measured in "Event Days."  Each day of a multi-day event is counted as a single "Event Day." If two separate events occur on the same day they are counted as two separate "Event Days."
The data on all special events from 2009 to 2018 can be found here.

Growth of Special Events

The total number of "Event Days" increased by 15% from 2009 to 2015.  The events added included parades, festivals, walks and races. The introduction of Christkindlmarket in 2016 brought about the largest increase by adding 21 days to the festival event category.

Seasonal Distribution of Events

The introduction of Christkindlmarket has made December the busiest month in total "Event Days." Prior to 2016, long standing events such as the Last Fling, Labor Day Parade, Riverwalk Fine Art Fair and Harvest Pow Pow made September the busiest month of the year.


Measuring the financial impact of special events is difficult with available data. The City collects a citywide retail sales tax and a citywide food and beverage tax. Data for these taxes is available on a monthly basis and is aggregated to the city as a whole. The City of Naperville is only legally allowed to report on this data at the aggregated level and cannot isolate businesses by location.
Starting in late 2008, the City began collecting a downtown-only food and beverage tax. The downtown food and beverage tax revenue indicates a prospering downtown dining scene.
The data on tax revenues can be found here.

Growth of Downtown Dining

Food and beverage spending in downtown Naperville has historically increased year after year, oftentimes at rates well above inflation. In four of the last eight years, downtown food and beverage spending has increased faster than the rest of Naperville.
In 2017, the majority of the Water Street development opened for business. This major increase in the downtown footprint is likely responsible for the increase in food and beverage spending that year.

Seasonal Shopping and Dining Patterns

Food and dining sales experience seasonal peaks in the summer/early fall and again during the holiday season.  The sales peaks are stronger in the downtown, compared to the rest of the city, which affirms the "destination" allure of downtown Naperville during the summer and holidays.
Citywide retail sales peak strongly during the holidays, and also in August during the back-to-school season. Downtown retail sales data is unavailable for comparison.


Downtown Naperville features more than 4,000 free parking spaces through on-street parking, surface parking lots and four parking facilities, including the Municipal Center Parking Facility. Over 40% of downtown parking is provided in three main structures: the Central Parking Facility (CPF) on Chicago Avenue, the Van Buren Parking Facility (VB) and the Water Street Parking Facility (WS). These three facilities are equipped with technology that continuously captures parking occupancy. The real-time information is displayed on electronic signs on the exterior of each of facility as well as on the City's website. This technology is not installed at the Municipal Center Parking Facility.
The recorded hourly parking data from 2016 and 2017 was analyzed for each facility to understand general parking trends and the impact of special events on parking availability. Parking data is continuously recorded, however this study focuses on Fridays from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Inaccurate readings caused by technical issues were eliminated from the dataset. The lower level of CPF was not included in the dataset due to an abundance of inaccurate readings. The parking patterns of all three levels of CPF are similar; therefore, during times of high occupancy in the upper levels of CPF, the lower level can be presumed full. The hotel parking spaces at the Water Street Parking Facility are also not included because they are not available for general public use.

Parking by Day

Peak parking occupancy consistently occurs on Fridays and Saturdays between noon and 2 p.m. and again between 7 and 9 p.m.  For the time frame studied, parking occupancy is lower on Sundays when downtown activity decreases and many non-retail/dining businesses are closed.

Parking by Month

June through September is the peak for parking, with September being the busiest month for all three facilities. This seems to correspond with September being the 2nd busiest month for special events.
The occupancy at the Water Street Parking Facility is likely low early in the year due to under-utilization when the development was brand new.  The strong peak during December at Water Street is contributed to its proximity to Christkindlmarket. 

Event Impact on Parking

Events from 2016 and 2017 were analyzed for their impact on parking in the downtown area. In order to determine the effect of a specific event on parking, two things must be known: (1) how many parking spaces were used that day, and (2) how many parking spaces would have been used that day if an event had not occurred. 
Actual parking usage is easily obtained from the electronic parking counters. Estimating parking values had the event not occurred is more complicated. Knowing exactly how many spaces would have been used is impossible, but estimating the typical parking occupancy for a given day is possible if the major driving factors are understood. The analysis determined that the relationship between parking facility, the day of the week, the time of day and the average temperature is strong enough to estimate typical parking. Subtracting the actual parking from the typical parking results in the parking impact of an event.
Parking is a complex process that is driven by many factors. The estimate for typical parking on a given day is not an exact estimate and, therefore, the parking impact value is not precise. Parking impact values are best viewed relative to one another; in other words, the higher the parking impact, the more likely that the event had a significant impact.
The data used to determine special events impact on parking can be found here.
  • Each day was divided into three time periods: Morning (7 a.m. to 11 a.m.), Afternoon (12 p.m. to 4 p.m.), Evening (5 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
  • There was not enough data for the Water Street Parking Facility in the mornings to estimate parking values with sufficient statistical significance
  • Actual Parking - Typical Parking = Parking Impact

Parking Impacts by Facility

Trends emerge when the parking impact of all events is analyzed by parking facility and time of day.
The magnitude of an event's impact is strongly influenced by the location of the event relative to the parking facility. For example, events at Naper Settlement have their highest impact on parking at the Water Street Parking Facility. These same events register significantly less impact at the other facilities.
The impacts of events held during morning hours and on Sundays are often high because parking occupancy is typically lower. For example, the Naperville Marathon has the highest impact value of any single event at 73%.  This is due to the combination of the large size of the event and the low typical parking on Sunday mornings.
Not surprisingly, larger events such as the Last Fling and Women's Half Marathon tend to have the largest impact. Ribfest is notable for it's relatively low impact on parking despite being the largest event of the year. This is viewed as the direct result of the event's investment in a variety of alternative transportation options.

Individual Event Viewer

Every downtown special event that took place during 2016 and 2017 is captured in the viewer below.  For each event, the impact on parking is available for each of the three parking facilities, summarized by time of day, and shown for every single day the event occurred.
The default event in the viewer is the day when both Christkindlmarket and the Friends of Little Friends Parade occurred.  The biggest impact to parking was in the evening while both events were taking place. In 2017, when the Friends of Little Friends Parade moved to a Saturday, it caused significant parking issues. This can be seen by highlighting the Saturday evening bar in the "Impact per Date" chart.  It will filter the "Evening" chart to show that the Central Parking Facility was 99% full that evening.
The data behind this viewer can be found here.


Christkindlmarket is a traditional German outdoor market offering shopping, dining and entertainment. The market is operated by German American Events, LLC on the grounds of Naper Settlement. Before the introduction of Christkindlmarket in 2016, the only special events between Thanksgiving and Christmas were the Turkey Trot and the Friends of Little Friends Parade.  Christkindlmarket has since added over 20 event days to the holiday season. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are important for retail and dining businesses in the downtown, so it is critical to understand what, if any, effect Christkindlmarket has on the area.

Downtown Holiday Food & Beverage Sales

There has been no discernible negative impact on downtown food and beverage sales since the introduction of Christkindlmarket. Since 2016, December sales growth has actually outpaced the rest of the year.

Christkindlmarket Survey

Naper Settlement conducted a visitor survey during the 2017 Christkindlmarket and received responses from more than 1,000 visitors.
Attendees were asked what else they did during their visit to the market and surrounding area. 61% of out-of-town visitors responded that they were only attending the market. With roughly 245,000 Christkindlmarket attendees annually, this highlights an untapped market for the downtown businesses.


Parking occupancy is defined as the average number of parked cars across every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during which Christkindlmarket took place.  In 2015, while there was no market, the days during which it would have taken place were analyzed. Errors in the data were controlled for and eliminated to enable comparisons across years.
The Water Street Facility opened just weeks before the 2016 arrival of Christkindlmarket, so the vast majority of parking in that facility was driven by that event. In 2017, the increase in parking occupancy is likely a result of the opening of the remaining Water Street development businesses.
The Central Parking Facility saw consistent usage before and after the arrival of the market. Its distance from the event and typically high occupancy may have discouraged Christkindlmarket visitors from parking in that facility.
The Van Buren Facility has seen an increase in parking since the introduction of Christkindlmarket, primarily on Friday and Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings. As the facility furthest from the market, any effect is likely indirect. For example, downtown visitors wishing to avoid the event may have intentionally chosen to park far away. The growth of holiday season sales in 2016 and 2017 may indicate an overall increase in downtown shoppers during this time which could have contributed to the higher parking levels.

What's Next?

The multi-department, multi-jurisdiction Special Events Team reviews applications and recommends which events are to be added to the following year’s calendar. The proposed events are evaluated on several criteria including staffing levels required, number of days of event, footprint of event and whether or not liquor will be served. Oftentimes, events are requested on the same date and/or in close proximity to each other. This happened during the recent review of applications for the 2019 event year. Parking information for the events in question was isolated and discussed. The insight from the data helped the team decide to request that one of the event organizers to move the proposed date. The Special Events Team will continue to consult parking impact data during future application recommendation processes.
The Data