Let's face it

For groups planning a national meeting, airport hassles deter attendance. The expense, the crowds, surly security guards, long lines, and the dread of missing a flight all combine to make some potential attendees reluctantly put down the annual meeting brochure and mutter, “No, not this year.” The convention centers know this, and McCormick Place and the Donald E. Stephens Center in Rosemont recently installed flight screens that provide attendees with up-to-the-minute information. This is not the FAA-regulated schedule information, but information on real-time delays caused by air-traffic control, aircraft maintenance, crew availability, and weather. It's no panacea, but having “glance-and-go” information available in the convention center does cut down on airport time and anxiety. Why not enjoy that hotel a little longer?

And as for meeting- and incentive-worthy hotels, Chicago is getting her “glam” on, opening opulent new hotels that are oases for upscale guests, irresistible incentives, champagne receptions, and top-drawer parties and events. Grouped around the Magnificent Mile, these palaces range from the historic to the ultramodern.

One of last spring's biggest stories was the March reopening of Chicago's 98-year-old Blackstone Hotel on South Michigan Ave. after a three-year, $128 million restoration. They recreated the landmark while keeping most of its original architecture intact. On the streetfront alone, workers restored more than 10,000 pieces of decorative terra cotta. Reopened, the Blackstone is again a social center for the city with 11,000 square feet of magnificently preserved event space. The hotel features 332 lavish guest rooms and suites (among them the fabled Presidential Suite and the Smoke-Filled Room), 19,670 square feet of meeting space, a health club, and a business center.

In contrast to the Blackstone, the Magnificent Mile welcomed an ultramodern hotel this spring. The Avenue, a contemporary urban refuge, offers modern luxury and the ultimate in technological amenities. Guests choose between 350 one-bedroom junior suites, and “expansive” guest rooms, including special Tech Rooms with iMacs, dedicated T-1 Internet connections, and printers. The Avenue hotel also offers groups more than 18,000 square feet of function space. With contemporary décor and natural lighting in every room, as well as wireless Internet access, a professional convention staff, and on-site technology services, the Avenue provides a new location ideal for meetings and social events.

Chicago/Facilities Update

Chicago

  • The former IBM Building at 330 North Wabash is about to become a hotel. LaSalle Hotel Properties will create 335 rooms that showcase five-fixture bathrooms on floors two through 13 in the yet-unnamed “five-star, super-luxe hotel“ and will offer 17,000 square feet of space for meetings and social events.

  • Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago, which opened in January, has already been hot-listed by the editors of Condé Nast Traveler in its May 2008 issue as one of the world's top new hotels. Sixteen restaurants, meeting and event space, a health club, a spa, and 339 guest rooms are on floors 14 through 27 of a 92-story residential tower. Later in the year, 53 spa guest rooms will be added to guest accommodations.

  • This summer, Chartres Lodging Group will reopen the old Chicago City Centre Hotel & Sports Club, newly transformed into the 500-room Doubletree Chicago Magnificent Mile. At 300 East Ohio St., it will have 17,000 square feet of meeting space, and a new restaurant to open in the fall. An Einstein's Bagel store, with an entrance directly from the hotel as well as from the street, is already open.

  • Chicago's historic Blackstone, a Renaissance Hotel reopened its doors on South Michigan Avenue in March 2008 after undergoing a three-year, $128 million restoration. The newly renovated hotel features 332 rooms with over 65 unique floor plans. The property has nine meeting rooms and a total of 13,230 square feet of event space. The hotel is adjacent to Grant Park and just three miles from the McCormick Place Convention Complex.

  • The Swissôtel Chicago is undergoing a $47 million meeting and conference expansion scheduled for completion in June 2009. The project calls for an additional 50,000 square feet of meeting space, including a 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art ballroom that can accommodate up to 1,500 people. All 632 guest rooms underwent renovations in April 2008, and the hotel completed a update of its fitness center last November.

Chicago South

  • At I-80 and La Grange Road in Chicago Southland, Hickory Creek Resort will open an indoor, 40,000-square-foot waterpark in late 2009; a 105-room themed hotel; a 120-room extended-stay hotel; an arcade; restaurants; an 80,000-square-foot, year-round sports academy; four multipurpose sports fields; 94,500 square feet of mixed-use office, meeting, and commercial space; and two parking structures.

Rosemont

  • InterContinental Chicago O'Hare will open in October near the airport in Rosemont with 556 guest rooms and 70 suites, as well as 53,000 square feet of meeting and event space. The new hotel will have a business center that doubles as a flight center where guests can check in for their flights, as well as a gym and an in-house performing arts complex.

  • A 200-room Coutyard by Marriott with two office buildings is planned near the new InterContinental hotel. Construction is expected to be finished by spring 2010.

Trip Tips

  • Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruises began an expanded schedule in May: More daily departures have been added to Chicago's First Lady fleet. (312) 922-3432

  • In Chicago on a summer night, head to Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion for a free performance, part of the Grant Park Music Festival outdoor classical music series. Go to www.grantparkmusicfestival.com/index.shtml for schedule.

  • Modern improv was born in Chicago. Second City has produced comic greats since 1959. It and ComedySportz deliver the fastest, funniest, and smartest improv ever. Private customizable shows will parody your CEO or group members. Regular shows Thursday through Saturday at Sportz and nightly at Second City.

Special Venues

  • Mercat a la Planxa is a new Spanish restaurant that takes up two floors of the newly restored Blackstone Hotel in the South Loop. Direct from its grill: 10 ounces of sliced American wagyu skirt steak or cider-glazed slow-cooked pork belly paired with green apples and cabbage. La Veranda provides a private dining space for groups on an indoor terrace overlooking the restaurant. (312) 765-0524, www.mercatchicago.com

  • Fiesta Adobo has two Chicago sites where authentic Mexican flavor rules: Old Town at 1610 North Wells (312-266-7999) and Wicker Park at 2005 West Division St. (773-252-9990). Either site is available for functions and can seat 15 to 75 people in private party rooms.

Ask the CVB

Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau
(708) 895-8200
www.visitchicagosouthland.com

Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
(312) 567-8500
www.choosechicago.com

Chicago's North Shore Convention & Visitors Bureau
(866) 369-0011
www.cnscvb.com

Rosemont Convention & Tourism Bureau
(847) 823-2100
www.rosemont.com