Monday officially marked the state of Illinois' 200th birthday, with a year's worth of events and commemorations capped with a birthday bash on Chicago's Navy Pier.
Planners labeled the party "historic in nature" and a culmination of a yearlong campaign to highlight everything "Born, Built and Grown" in Illinois.
But Navy Pier's 2,200-seat Aon Grand Ballroom was not the first choice to host the elaborate event. While many believed it to be a fitting location for the celebration as the state's top tourist destination, up until last month, the plan was to hold the event at the 23,500-seat United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks.
But with weaker-than-expected sales, Stuart Layne, executive director of the Illinois Bicentennial Commission, said the group "scaled everything down" to a more intimate venue.
State officials involved with planning the event said they expected about 2,000 people to attend, which would have packed the ballroom, but would have filled just about 10 percent of the seats at the United Center.
"When it looked like we might not do that, we thought it was fiscally more responsible to move to a smaller venue," Layne said. "With no funding, we had to manage our expectations. That's what really went into it."
Managing expectations is something bicentennial planners have had to grapple with since they began planning the yearlong celebration in 2016.
Relying mostly on sponsorships from private individuals and businesses, those involved with the state's bicentennial effort say the yearlong celebration was limited in size and scope, forcing them to do more with less while partnering with other state agencies, local governments and private industry to put on events and host programs across the state.
"We were jealous that Indiana dedicated $55 million to their bicentennial campaign (in 2016 and) that they had a five-year lead time," Layne said. "We didn't have that. So our efforts were to make an impact, but also, I think the key for us was to partner with communities and organizations."
In contrast to Indiana and Mississippi, which allocated about $90 million to build both a Civil Rights and History museum to mark its bicentennial in 2017, Illinois' Bicentennial Commission raised only $1.4 million for events and programs, according to deputy Gov. Leslie Munger.
A total of $25,000 came from the Illinois Lottery and $75,000 from the Illinois Office of Tourism, with the rest coming from private donors.
"Our legislature did not (appropriate funds for the bicentennial), and we spent none," Munger said.
This lack of a state-funded project commemorating the Illinois Bicentennial is perhaps the largest contrast from other milestone years the state has marked.
"It doesn't measure up in the same sense," said Mike Kienzler, editor of local history website SangamonLink.com and a former metro editor at The State Journal-Register, referring to this year's efforts. "It didn't have the money. Somehow, 200 years isn't as big a milestone, I think, for many people than 100 years was. And it was just a more different, more boosterish point of view back in those days."
In 1868, the state's 50th anniversary, construction began on the current Illinois State Capitol. For the state's centennial in 1918, the Centennial Building (later renamed the Michael J. Howlett Building) was dedicated along with the statues of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas in front of the Statehouse.
And for the state's sesquicentennial in 1968, the Old State Capitol building was rebuilt brick-by-brick and restored to become one of the state's premier historic sites.
"Those were done with state funds," said state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, a co-chair of the Bicentennial Commission. "Obviously, in today's budget climate, it's a different situation. We're not going to build a building. But, certainly, the way that communities have stepped up across the state is probably the best thing that I've seen to help celebrate."
Indeed, the state to this point has not allocated any funds toward the bicentennial beyond paying the salaries of six commission staff members. This required planners to get creative, including partnering with groups at the local level.
"A lot of that happened in communities, where organizations turned their local events into bicentennial events this year," Layne said. "So, a lot of it came from us, but a lot of it came from elsewhere."
Cory Jobe, the state's tourism director, said an example of this was the many Illinois Bicentennial-themed corn mazes around the state this fall, which took "a traditional outlet that was always being done in the fall by various farmers across the state and ... we allowed them to create their own design by using some elements of the bicentennial theme."
The state's tourism arm also worked hand-in-hand with the Bicentennial Commission and the state's 39 local convention and visitor bureaus on producing video content and literature for the bicentennial, helping make up for the commission's lack of a marketing budget.
Jobe said his office also looped in bicentennial themes when pitching stories as part of his office's earned media strategy.
"It was kind of our way of giving back and educating visitors who are coming into our state about the Bicentennial and urging visitors to visit some key historic sites throughout the state," Jobe said.
Jobe said tourism is up 8 percent compared to this point last year. Though he could not directly attribute that to the bicentennial, he said the focus on telling the state's history undoubtedly helped, especially in encouraging Illinois residents to learn about their history.
In August, the Illinois Bicentennial, in conjunction with Jobe's office, ran a program called Doors Open Illinois, which opened the doors of several iconic historical sites and architectural treasures throughout the state to the public on select weekends.
Additionally, Jobe said two signature projects completed during the Bicentennial year, the $15 million renovation of the Illinois Governor's Mansion and the Illinois Realtors' Bicentennial Plaza, will be a long-lasting boon for the state's historic sites in Springfield.
The mansion, after years of neglect and falling into disrepair, reopened to the public in July.
The Bicentennial Plaza was dedicated on Illinois Constitution Day in August. A brick-laid pedestrian walkway between Fifth and Sixth streets, the plaza provides a connection between the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Governor's Mansion. It was considered a critical link in the unfinished "Springfield Way" of historic sites. That project was spearheaded by the Illinois Realtors, which owns the land.
While Butler acknowledges that the bicentennial was "probably not the same celebration that we had 50 years ago or 100 years ago," there still managed to be more than 500 Bicentennial Commission-endorsed events that took place around the state. And most of it was because local groups and private donors stepping up.
"The favorite thing that I've seen is, even though it does seem like the bicentennial has flown under the radar screen a little bit, to see the communities across the state that actually have stepped forward to do things to honor the state's bicentennial and the history of our state and the great things that have happened," Butler said.
Butler said the commission will write a summary report at the end of the year. In it, he said they may include recommendations on what to do for future celebrations. One thing that Butler hopes to have the next time: "Ample ramp time to get up and going."