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Mayor Raises Possibility of Some Privatization of McCormick Place

Hil Anderson
, Senior Editor
February 24, 2010
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By Hil Anderson, senior editor 

Chicago, IL – Chicago Mayor Richard Daley alluded to private management as a means of reducing costs at McCormick Place. He ruled out selling the landmark convention center.

Daley said at an appearance before a Chicago business association February 22 that getting the city out of the management of McCormick Place might be a way to reduce costs for trade show organizers. In an interview with Chicago’s WLS-TV in Washington the following day, he indicated show management should have a greater say in how exhibitions are run.

A spokesperson for Daley said privatization was still a concept as the city and the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority (MPEA) seek to reduce labor. “This is just an idea at this point," Jodi Kawada said. "The mayor is trying to think creatively about jump-starting the convention and tourism industry in Chicago, which will require bold steps."

Gregg Caren, senior vice president of strategic business development at SMG, the world’s largest private operator of convention centers, told Trade Show Executive that his company had not been contacted regarding a potential role at McCormick Place. “I’m not sure how much he (Daley) was testing the waters, or if he was speaking off the cuff,” Caren said. He added that SMG was not actively soliciting a contract to run McCormick Place.

Caren said many U.S. cities were reviewing their operations amid tightening finances, but turning a community-owned convention center over to a private management company was a big political step. “It has to be the will of the city,” he said.

Daley has thrown his support behind a proposal by the MPEA that would streamline union jurisdictions and make their workers MPEA employees. Show organizers and service contractors have instead urged changes that would lower the cost of producing a show at McCormick Place.

McCormick Place has 2.6 million square feet of prime exhibit space and is the largest convention center in the U.S., according to Trade Show Executive’s directory of the World’s Top Convention Centers. The largest facilities that SMG manages include Reliant Park in Houston with 1.05 million square feet of prime space and Toronto’s Direct Energy Centre with 1 million square feet.

Reach MPEA CEO Juan Ochoa at (312) 791-7500 or jochoa@mpea.org; Gregg Caren at (610) 729-7922 or gcaren@smgworld.com

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