Chicago city officials and citizens are all buzzing about the possibility of hosting the 2016 summer Olympic Games. The decision hasn't been made yet, but IOC officials kicked off inspections of the contenders in April in Chicago. They toured the city and were wined and dined lavishly — then they went on to tour the competition: Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, and Madrid. The host city will be announced in Copenhagen on October 2, 2009. Groups that have been to Atlanta know how much the Olympics contributes to a city's hospitality infrastructure for years after the final gold medal is awarded. Chicago has its new hotels, Soldiers' Field, and every inch of McCormick Place and the Navy Pier shined up and looking proud.
Whether or not Chicago is chosen for the 2016 games, McCormick Place has new “eyes in the sky” to assist meeting managers and executives. The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority has permanently installed 80 cameras and other infrastructure for Ethnometrics, a consulting firm concerned with marketing performance, to measure and evaluate face-to-face marketing on the trade show floor. Ethnometrics uses the cameras and consumer data to measure the effectiveness of the exhibitors' sales teams, the exhibit designs, even traffic patterns at various points of the show.
Also in April, Navy Pier hosted an estimated 800 meeting planners and 250 exhibitors at Affordable Meetings Mid-America Exhibition and Conference, where the atmosphere was positive and hopeful despite the economic climate. Much of the focus was on budgeting to cope with the downturn, while others looked (and hoped) for an early turnaround.
The Allerton Hotel Chicago, the 1920s Chicago property that spurred the development of the Magnificent Mile, recently capped off $85 million in renovations. The 443-room hotel debuted its new 2,100-square-foot Buckingham Ballroom in what used to be the third-floor lobby.
A rededication was celebrated in January at the Palmer House Hilton to mark completion of a two-year, $170 million renovation project that included a new lobby (none of the 21 paintings on the ceiling was affected) and remodeling of its 1,000 rooms and suites.
Thirteen transformed special-event rooms with 16,000 square feet of meeting and event space were unveiled in mid-April at the Doubletree Chicago Magnificent Mile. The $21 million project at the 500-room hotel includes a new 160-seat Markethouse restaurant, where Midwestern menu basics are created from regional specialty ingredients.
Perched high among the top reaches of Water Tower Place, the Ritz-Carlton, Chicago on May 1 unwrapped months of work (and millions of dollars spent) restyling its guest rooms and suites.
The Marriott Bloomington-Normal Hotel & Conference Center project is expected to open by September this year with 229 rooms, a pool, restaurant, and fitness center. An attached conference facility includes more than 23,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and is connected to the Normal Theater, which will also be available for group events.
The 318-room Crowne Plaza Chicago-Northbrook opened in March after a $16 million conversion from a Radisson. Upgrades have been made to all public areas, including the addition of new marble floors, 19 meeting rooms with 15,000 square feet of meeting space, and an expanded business center.
Starwood Hotels opened the Sheraton Chicago Northbrook Hotel in October 2008 with 161 guest rooms and all the interactive bells and whistles. Connections Restaurant & Lounge serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner or a banquet in 2,200 square feet of meeting space for small to midsize conferences or events.
In April, Swissôtel Chicago opened its $47 million conference expansion, beating its anticipated June finish date. Comprising 50,000 square feet, the Event Centre includes a 14,000-square-foot Zurich Ballroom, a second ballroom, and two meeting rooms that allow the 632-room hotel to host events for as many as 1,500 people without disturbing smaller groups. Swissôtel's glass triangle is located at 323 E. Wacker Drive just off the Magnificent Mile, where Lake Michigan and the Chicago River meet.
The 350-room Chicago Marriott Oak Brook debuted an 11,040-square-foot ballroom to go with its 18,600 square feet of meeting space, three restaurants and lounges, pool, and fitness center at 1401 West 22nd Street.
The 254-suite Chicago Marriott Suites Downers Grove recently unveiled an $800,000 renovation. A new look suffuses the property's 5,700 square feet of meeting space and Allie's restaurant and lounge.
In Chicago, the Lincoln Park Zoo, Millennium Park, and Navy Pier are always open and always free to groups and individuals.
Groups looking for restaurants in Chicago and its environs can consult http://chowhound.chow.com where they're laid out by suburb or city and even “near … McCormick Place, the South Loop, Magnificent Mile, etc.”
If planners move quickly, the Hyatt Regency Woodfield-Schaumburg offers to waive attrition fees and cancellation penalties for meetings with room blocks booked before July 2009.
In Glencoe, the 7,500-square-foot Model Railroad Garden headlines the Chicago Botanic Garden. For an indoor meeting or event, the Garden can accommodate 30 to 300 guests; if you can move outside, bring along 1,000! Highlighting the visit will be 17 scale trains on 1,600 feet of track surrounded by 5,000 miniature trees, shrubs, and 300 varieties of flowering plants. Train lines include the Santa Fe Super Chief, Chicago Northwestern Commuter, the Union Pacific, and the kids' favorite, Thomas the Tank. (847) 835.5440, www.chicagobotanic.org