Illinois Senate President John J. Cullerton speaking about McCormick Place on Thursday. (José M. Osorio/ Chicago Tribune)
By Kathy Bergen | One of the state’s most powerful legislative leaders on Thursday raised
the possibility of a state subsidy for McCormick Place operations, after
several representatives of key Chicago trade shows made it clear they
needed exhibitor costs slashed or they would consider moving elsewhere.
“Orlando and Las Vegas both provide subsidies for their operations,”
said Ill. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who chaired the
first legislative hearing on how to make McCormick Place more
competitive with rivals. Those cities funnel hotel taxes to pay for
operations, and Cullerton said Illinois could consider doing the same with its existing hotel tax revenues.
McCormick Place, which does not get a subsidy for its operations, has been overcharging for electrical service and food service as a way to make ends meet, he said. And those two areas have been well-publicized sore spots for trade shows and conventions.
“It’s obvious we have a major problem,” he said after the hearing at the Thompson Center.
The state also needs to examine labor union work rules that many trade shows find costly and frustrating, and to look at ways to further streamline operations at the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, state-city agency that runs the exhibition hall, he said.
A second hearing will be held next Wednesday. Labor unions, show contractors and the exposition authority will address the 16-member House-Senate panel at that time.