It's called an addition, but the just-opened McCormick Place West in Chicago is more like a stand-alone, self-contained, 740,000-square-foot convention center, connected by an enclosed walkway to the 2.2-million-square-foot McCormick Place in Chicago. And it was designed with association meetings and conventions in mind.

The "west building," as city officials call it, opened August 1--eight months ahead of schedule. Attendees of the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting, held August 11 to 15, were among the very first to see the new building, gathering for the opening night celebration in the 103,000-square-foot Skyline Ballroom, one of only two ballrooms in the country over 100,000 square feet in area.

Although the rest of the ASAE meeting was held in the main building, McCormick Place West was built for events just like it. "We wanted to design a building for groups that were having meetings, with exhibits" as opposed to events that require mostly exhibit space, said Dave Causten, general manager at McCormick Place, leading a tour of the facility during the ASAE conference. McCormick Place, which is a popular destination for trade shows, simply couldn't accommodate as many meetings--both association and corporate--as bureau officials would have liked to book.

"The new McCormick Place West building allows us to bring new types of meetings to the center," said Tim Roby, president and chief executive officer at the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. So far, about 80 meetings have been booked in McCormick Place West, one-third of which have not met in Chicago before, added Roby, speaking at a press conference. Approximately 62 of them are association meetings. The first full convention in McCormick Place West, the National Confectioners Association's Candy Expo, takes place in September.

A tour of the facility reveals a state-of-the-art center custom built for meetings with design input coming straight from the source--meeting planners. A customer advisory board consisting of meeting planners provided feedback in two key areas: the location of the 103,000-square-foot ballroom on the third floor, directly across from the 470,000-square-foot exhibition hall. Originally, the massive ballroom was planned for the fourth floor, but planners felt that would create too much vertical movement.

The other recommendation was the layout of the meeting rooms. Most of the 61 meeting rooms, which total 150,000 square feet, are on the first floor, configured in an "H" design, with registration and lobby space in between. The width of the building is as long as Chicago's Sears Tower is high --minus the antennas--with dedicated bus lanes right in front. Overall, the ratio of exhibit space to meeting space is 2:1, compared to McCormick Place, where the ratio is 3:1. The meeting rooms are all divisible, with large doors in the front and back to make it easy to get equipment in and out. There are additional meetings rooms on the fourth floor.

The second floor concourse includes restaurants, shops, a business center, and food court. The fifth floor has a rooftop terrace with spectacular views of the city on three sides. It can be used for special events, receptions, cocktail parties, etc., for up to 800 people, and it overlooks rooftop gardens on two sides. The building is certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), meaning it is designed in an environmentally responsible manner.

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