What's New

On April 14 a cheer went up as Chicago was chosen over Los Angeles as the U.S. contender for the 2016 Summer Olympics. It may have helped Chicago's bid that Mayor Daley in April revealed a new $6.5 million security command center built underneath McCormick Place — an addition that will only enhance the city's final pitch against such international powerhouses as Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro to host the Games.

The nerve center that will monitor 450 surveillance cameras positioned around McCormick Place was in the works long before Chicago became a finalist for the Olympics. Mayor Daley noted that McCormick Place is one of the few event centers that have this level of surveillance and that the cameras can constantly scan both inside and outside the convention center, with personnel always monitoring the scans from the security command center. If the mayor's Olympic dream becomes reality, McCormick Place will be the site of 11 sports venues as well as the Olympic broadcast and press centers.

The security will also cover McCormick Place West, the new addition set to open in August that is showing strong, pre-opening booking numbers.

In other Chicago news, the 1890 Chicago Athletic Association at 12 Michigan Avenue closed in May to make way for a new hotel and other renovations. Snider-Cannatga of Cleveland began a 12- to 18-month, $75 million renovation and is seeking a four-star hotel to complement the surrounding new Millennium Park, renovated Art Institute, and other nearby upgrades, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Millennium Park is a must-see in spring, summer, and fall when the gardens and flowering trees are in bloom. Twenty-four acres are carved from the commerce-filled streets of Chicago and given over to green space, fountains, public art, and lots of benches to sit and enjoy the scene. It also includes the Harris Theater for Music and Dance and the Jay Pritzker outdoor performing arts pavilion.

Twenty miles down the road, the Rosemont Walk is becoming even more populated with hotels, restaurants, and entertainment options. According to Bill Anderson, executive director of the Rosemont Convention and Visitors Bureau, a new 250-room Aloft hotel is scheduled to break ground in May and a 550-room Inter-Continental with approximately 20,000 square feet of meeting space is anticipated to open in late summer or fall 2008.

An upscale option in the works in Rosemont, but not yet signed on the dotted line, is a 550-room Majestic Falls Resort Hotel, with an exclusive 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark. Majestic Falls may partner with other hotels to share the facility, but it will not be open to the public.

Facilities Update

Downtown

  • The Four Seasons Chicago hotel underwent the first major redesign in its 18 years in an effort to update its rooms and become more attractive to young, affluent travelers. With brands like Peninsula, Shangri-La, Mandarin Oriental, Trump, and Elysian either open or looking to come to Chicago, the Four Seasons wants to retain its rank at the top of the heap.

  • The Mandarin Oriental, Chicago, opening in 2009, will occupy 15 floors of a mixed-use development in Chicago's Millennium Park neighborhood. In addition to 250 guest rooms and suites, a 20,000-square-foot spa, and meeting space, the luxury property will feature 50 residences, 300 condominiums, and retail space.

  • Trump International Hotel & Tower is being built on the Chicago River at 401 North Wabash. It will include 461 condominiums and 227 combination hotel/condo rooms. Slated for completion in 2009, it will be the second-tallest building in Chicago behind the Sears Tower.

  • In the Chicago Loop, the historic Palmer House Hilton will redesign its 1,639 guest rooms, baths, and corridors as part of the hotel's $150 million renovation slated for completion by the fall of 2008. Renovations include the ballrooms and multiple conference, meeting, and banquet rooms.

  • The 500-room Chicago City Centre Hotel & Sports Club, a former Holiday Inn, has 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

  • Gemstone Hotels & Resorts is transforming the Chicago House of Blues hotel into the Hotel Sax Chicago to the tune of $17 million, including a complete renovation of all 353 guest rooms, lobby area, and an increased 10,000 square feet of meeting and function space. Renovations of the meeting space are expected to be complete by October.

  • The 443-room Allerton Hotel will drop its Crowne Plaza affiliation and become The Allerton Hotel — The Landmark on Michigan Avenue as it undertakes $10 million in renovations. In addition to refurbishing all guest rooms, the hotel lobby is moving from the third floor, which will be converted to a ballroom and meeting space, to the second floor.

  • The James Chicago, with 302 rooms and 109 suites, has 7,000 square feet of special event space that can accommodate events with 10 to 220 guests.

  • She looks like a real lady now, but the Millennium Knickerbocker's storied past shows through. The North Michigan Avenue hotel is sleek and sassy with all the latest accoutrements after $20 million worth of renovations. The gold leaf and crystal-encrusted lobby, ballroom, 14 meeting rooms, and restaurants are the epitome of elegance, but upstairs in the 305 guest rooms and hallways alert guests might still get a whiff of the bawdy days in 1927 when she was built and became a Capone hangout, or hear the strains of disco from the 1970s when Hugh Hefner brought in scantily clad ladies and turned her into the Playboy Towers.

Rosemont

  • In April, the 1,099-room Hyatt Regency O'Hare completed a $60 million upgrade of its public spaces and created a new conference center. The increased meeting and function space totals 110,000 square feet, and there is a new restaurant and lobby bar, a Regency Club, a 24-hour gym, and enclosed access to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

North West Of Chicago

  • The jewel of the Village of Schaumburg, the Renaissance Hotel & Convention Center, opened in July 2006 with 148,624 square feet of meeting space divided among 31 rooms, including an exhibit hall. There are nearly 500 guest rooms. The complex will add a 2,400-seat performing arts theater.

  • In January, the 435-room Westin Chicago Northwest opened in Itasca. The 12-story atrium provides space for a variety of group events, as do the newly renovated 9,600-square-foot ballroom, the lakeside pavilion, and 31 newly designed meeting rooms, plus a tiered auditorium that seats 84 people.

  • Doubletree in April reflagged the 369-room North Shore Hotel & Executive Conference Center as the Doubletree Hotel & Conference Center Skokie at its grand reopening to celebrate a multimillion-dollar renovation. There is 22,000 square feet of redesigned meeting and event space. The penthouse-level Monaco Ballroom can host up to 600 guests.

Ask the Cvb

Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau
(312) 567-8500
www.choosechicago.com
Total Hotel Tax: 15.4%

Chicago Southland Convention and Visitors Bureau
(708) 895-8200, (888) 895-8233
www.visitchicagosouthland.com
Total Hotel Tax: 10% in Southland communities

DuPage CVB
(800) 232-0502, (630) 575-8070
www.dupagecvb.com
Total Hotel Tax: 7% to 15%

Rosemont Convention Bureau
(847) 823-2100; www.rosemont.com
Total Hotel Tax: 13%

Phantom Planner

  • Chicago's famous stuffed crust pizza is a treat not to be missed, but whether your group is dining in or getting delivery, order ahead and allow at least 30 to 40 minutes for preparation and cooking. In Chicago, pizzas are never cooked ahead and reheated.

  • However, if you want the company executives or the planning committee to sample Chicago's famous stuffed pizzas before the event, Giordano's will partially bake and freeze one of theirs and ship it to you carefully packed in dry ice. Call (312) 951-0747 or see www.giordanos.com/about.php to order.

  • If your group is socked in at a meeting in Chicago — say, when O'Hare and Midway airports are closed, there are high winds and even higher snow, and no buses or cars moving on the streets — it is safest to extend meeting activities until conditions improve. For attendees who absolutely, positively have to get somewhere, snow or no snow, call Amtrak. Passenger trains going through Chicago are likely to be running. If trains cannot get attendees to their final destinations, it is likely Amtrak can get them to the nearest large city where airports are open.

  • Another note on weather vagaries: In many places, but certainly in Chicago, having a plan B in case of inclement weather for an outdoor event is essential. Depending on the size of your group, Plan B can be as simple as an alternate rain date, a one-day reservation of a large tent you can decide to use (or not) the morning of the event, large market umbrellas set up around the site to protect guests from hot sun or rain, or an assortment of personal umbrellas and ponchos to cover your guests until you get them under cover.

  • Chicago restaurants can now participate in Illinois' cork-and-carry law, which means unfinished bottles can be re-corked, sealed in a clear, tamper-proof bag, and taken back to the hotel. Be sure to take along the dated receipt.

Special Venues

  • Lions ‘n tigers ‘n bears: Oh my! The Brookfield Zoo, a 220-acre animal park 14 miles west of downtown Chicago, has them all. A 50,000-square-foot special events space opened this spring. With room for everything from a circus tent to a climbing wall, the special events space can accommodate receptions for up to 6,000 people or smaller events in eight separate areas. (800) 201-0784, (708) 485-0263; www.brookfieldzoo.org

  • Regenstein Center, the focal point of Chicago Botanic Garden in Evanston is open year-round in the midst of 23 spectacular gardens set on 385 acres of hills and lakes. The center has several available private rooms and courtyards. The Linnaeus Room, for example, is ideal for a reception of up to 100 guests, while Alsdorf Auditorium seats up to 225 in a modern theater, and Nichols Hall is available for symposia and special events up to 350 people. Of course, outdoor space is also available. (847) 835-5440; www.chicagobotanic.org/events/index.php

  • The Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) recently underwent a $27 million renovation that created more prime meeting space. Its main gallery, Crossroads of America, has tripled in size; a covered portico to an outdoor plaza extends the room's capacity to about 310 seated and up to 650 for a reception. (312) 799-2254; www.historymuseum.org

  • McCormick Place West was built for meetings that don't require the massive space of McCormick Place. Its 470,000 square feet of exhibition space and 250,000 square feet of meeting rooms are topped by a roof garden able to host events for up to 800 guests. It will open in August. (312) 567-8500; www.mccormick2008.com/building