McCormick Place sees the return of conventions, events and meetings

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The numbers bode well for cities and states that are now investing in convention centers in an effort to attract more exhibit business. At least 35 such projects are underway, Bloomberg reported in March, and they are attractive to local governments because they can generate revenue related to areas such as hotel taxes and sales taxes.

The CEIR group now expects its total index in 2023 to be about 10% below 2019 levels, and in 2024 about 3.5% above 2019. The total CEIR index follows the amount of use of space conventions, the number of people present, the number of companies and revenues. It focuses on business-to-business events.

In Chicago, the return of conventions, trade events and business meetings has lagged behind other cities.

A July report from meetings analytics firm Knowland said 21 of the top 25 U.S. convention and trade show markets are on track to return to 2019 event and attendance levels by 2024. — including several who will hit the mark this year or next — but that Chicago will still be below 90% of its full recovery by 2024.

A mix of factors has delayed the return of a multi-billion dollar local industry that is one of the state’s most important economic engines. They include the state’s slower lifting of pandemic restrictions, a devastated hotel scene and fear of crime in the heart of the city, according to Knowland.

McCormick Place, the largest convention center in the United States at 2.6 million square feet, reopened for conventions in March of this year. It has since hosted major events, including the National Restaurant Association Show in May.

The convention venue is hosting the International Manufacturing Technology Show this week. With an expected attendance of over 114,000 people, the event is one of McCormick Place’s largest of the year.

However, reservations are dwindling. McCormick Place had just 176 events scheduled for the year when it reopened in March, down from 289 in 2019. It has 17 events on its schedule by the end of the year.

Danny Ecker and Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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