Madigan: No overhaul, no McCormick Place rescue

Posted April 7, 2010 at 3:27 p.m.

Madigan-Web.jpgJohn Cullerton, left, and Michael Madigan confer before the start of the Joint Committee on the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority on April 7. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune)

By Kathy Bergen |
Union leaders, the trade show contractors they work for and McCormick
Place management all called for a state subsidy of convention hall
operations at a legislative hearing Wednesday, but House Speaker Michael
Madigan said a rescue would not be forthcoming without significant

“My position is the legislature is not going to move forward with any
extension of taxes, any restructuring of debt payments until we put in
place a good, workable business structure,” Madigan said.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency that runs McCormick Place, is seeking approval in Springfield for a restructuring of its construction debt because its tourism tax receipts are falling short of its annual required payments. As well, the authority would like the legislature to consider instituting a subsidy of its operations so that it could eliminate steep mark-ups on electrical service and food that currently bolster its budget.

Trade shows have bristled at the costs of those services.

Madigan left the door open for a wide range of changes, from a different governance structure for the authority to the possibility of privatizing the whole operation.

“I’m not satisfied with the current management,” he said. Other worthwhile ideas, Madigan said, include drafting a clear set of exhibitor rights and auditing show contractors to make sure they pass along any cost savings stemming from union concessions.

“It’s all on the table,” he said.

His remarks came after the second legislative hearing on McPier operations, which ran for more than three hours at the Thompson Center.

At that hearing, it was clear union leaders and trade show operators remain miles apart on how to fix Chicago’s trade show business, aside of agreeing on the need for a state subsidy of McCormick Place operations.

In recent meetings between the unions and the contractors, “we didn’t seem to meet anywhere in the middle,” Robert Fulton, business manager for the riggers union, told the House-Senate panel. “We keep spinning our wheels.”

Madigan said he was confident the impasse could be worked through, and that an overhaul proposal could be hammered out this session, which is scheduled to end May 7.



  1. Guy April 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Fine with me. I suspect that the best strategy is to simply let the whole operation go bankrupt and die. Let McCormick Place sit dark and idle for a year or two. Then revive it after we (hopefully) get a more honest and earnest city administration in place.

  2. JOHN C April 7, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    Trade show “operators” i. e. GES/Freeman have a unfair monopoly and literally have their feet on the throats of exhibitors and union workers. THE operators never take any risk but get profits like “lottery” winners. Way too much “payola” to politically connected hacks, stooges and flunkies.

  3. John K April 7, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    This is what we should be talking about, how to make the convention business in Chicago competitive. This is a Ronald Regan moment; fire the entire organization and privatize operations to deliver profits to the City. Pigs get slaughtered!

  4. Franklin808 April 8, 2010 at 9:39 a.m.

    It is obvious that we need to raise the income tax so that Illinois has money to give to McComick Place. The unions can only give in so much.