by Kaylee Hultgren | May 01, 2010

In April, the Joint Committee of the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority, appointed at the start of the year to examine and reform the trade show business in Chicago, presented a slew of recommendations to a committee of state legislators in an effort to keep pricing at the city's main convention center, McCormick Place, competitive for trade shows.

The recommendations include some suggestions previously outlined in a proposed house bill presented by the authority in January, which was endorsed by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley but opposed by industry associations, contractors and labor groups. Common to both proposals, workers at the center would be made public employees and would not be allowed to strike; the MPEA would be able to renegotiate show labor agreements; and the number of union bargaining units would be reduced from five to three.

Some new ideas also were offered, such as allowing outside electrical contractors to bid on individual events; canceling current food-service contracts and preparing an RFP process for food service at a fixed fee; and redirecting any convention-related marketing funds from the city or state to the MPEA.  

Sweeping reforms are considered necessary by most parties that were present at the committee's two hearings, including Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau president and CEO Tim Roby, who said in a statement, "Here's the bottom line: Our competitors are using our costs as their lead marketing tactic. I can tell you that every single one of our current and potential customers is evaluating whether their next convention will be in Chicago or elsewhere. If we don't fix this before the legislative session adjourns...come July 1 you can be sure that at least five and as many as 20 more shows will leave."

At the hearings, five key Chicago customers expressed concerns about costs and presented the possibility of moving their shows. Among them, the International Housewares Association passed a resolution to assess alternative venues, "in the event that all parties involved have not made significant progress toward cost reductions at McCormick Place" by the time the group must renew its contract.

Following a review of the MPEA's recommendations, which were issued to the legislative committee as this article went to press, lawmakers will send a final report to the state's general assembly.