Chicago reopens: restaurants, hotels eager to return to conventions this summer

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CHICAGO (WLS) – Conventions will return to the Chicago area soon.

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, conferences of large companies and retail are scheduled, but with restrictions.

The return of conventions is expected to bring much needed business to the restaurant and hospitality industry.

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Thirty shows and conventions are tentatively scheduled at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont and 15 at McCormack Place, including the Chicago Auto Show to kick off this summer.

These conventions are huge economic engines for the Chicago area.

In July, the Stephens Convention Center will host its first convention in over a year, with COVID security measures in place. This is only the start after a harsh series of postponements and cancellations.

“We have a big building here, about a million square feet, and the lights have been off for over a year. It’s really a weird time here,” said Chris Stephens, executive director of the Donald Stephens Convention. Center.

Stephens said restarting conventions is something that will revitalize the economy in the Chicago area.

“It touches almost everything, especially here. We are two and a half square miles in Rosemont. There are more hotel rooms than residents here, ”he said.

And across the street, for those with an interest in the convention business, things are heating up.

“It all starts with the convention center. And then what happens there is hotels fill up at that time, and they also put on shows at the Rosemont Theater or the Allstate Arena and everything. is happening, ”said Patrick Houlihan, Partner Director at Gibsons Restaurant Group.

Houlihan said that with the arrival of new agreements, he has rehired 95% of his staff and expects to need even more.

“A normal lunch, we’ll make 100 people. When a convention is in town, we’ll do 450 in two hours. For dinner, you make 200, 300 people. When a convention is in town, you make 600 in four or four. five (hours). And it’s not just us, it’s everyone. It’s all the restaurants, “he said.

Conventions here and in Chicago are a lifeline, especially for hotels that depend on them for at least half of their income.

“When these visitors come to McCormick Place. Not only do they stay in our hotels, they eat in our restaurants, they go out to neighborhoods, they go to museums, they go to Navy Pier,” said Michael Jacobson, president and chief of management. of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association.

And the head of the Magnificent Mile Association said almost any downtown business can benefit from a return to the convention.

“It’s very, very easy to connect these dots and say hallelujah, we’re so excited that conventions and trade shows are back,” said Kimberly Bares, President and CEO of The Magnificent Mile Association.

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