By Kathy Bergen | Jim Reilly, the legislative’s chief adviser on McCormick Place, would take the reins of the convention center and likely lead it into an era of private management, if the General Assembly approves legislation introduced this afternoon.
Reilly, who is chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority and formerly chief executive of the agency that runs McCormick Place, would step into a $185,250-a-year role that carries extensive decision-making power for an 18-month transition period.
The bill introduced in the Illinois House would give trade show customers much of the flexibility they are seeking, cut into labor’s power on the show floor and provide financial relief to the agency that runs the center, though less than it requested.
The legislation was crafted by a joint House-Senate Committee chaired by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate Pres. John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats. It aims to make Chicago more competitive with lower-cost rivals.
And it appears to have bipartisan support, said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. “On balance, it’s a huge step in the right direction,” she said.
Here are some highlights:
The naming of a trustee to replace a chief executive of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency known as McPier that runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier. Its CEO, Juan Ochoa, announced his resignation Wednesday.
The trustee’s duties will include hiring a private management firm to run McCormick Place day-to-day. A proposal that would have allowed the trustee also to select an exclusive trade show contractor, which shows would have to use for their set-up and tear-down, was scrapped after strong objections from key trade show customers.
The trustee also would have the authority to sell naming rights to McPier facilities. Mayor Richard Daley has objected to any move to rename Navy Pier, which got its name in 1927 to honor personnel who served in World War I.
A laundry list of state-imposed show floor rules aimed at cutting costs and hassles for exhibitors. They include allowing an exhibitor to set up a booth of any size with the use of ladders and hand tools. The unions had fought to limit that flexibility to booths smaller than 400 square feet, up from the current 300 square-foot limit.
The rights also include expanded hours for straight time, allowing exhibitors to call workers by name, reducing worker crew sizes and reduce the number of stewards working the floor.
As well, it calls for a twice-yearly audit to make sure savings are passed along to customers.
Elimination of McPier’s profit margin on food service, and permission for exhibitors to bring in food and beverage for personal consumption, the latter clearly aimed at outrage over sky-high prices for pop and water.
Elimination of the requirement that trade shows use the in-house electrical service.
Restructuring of McPier debt and expansion of state subsidies.
McPier is not collecting sufficient tourism-related taxes to make its annual debt payments, and the state is patching the gap with general revenue.
The bill would ease the pressure by extending the payment schedule by as many as 18 years, and extending the taxes used to pay it off. But it also would increase McPier’s overall bonding ability, from $2.1 billion to $2.5 billion, though this is less than the $2.8 billion the agency is seeking.
The restructuring is aimed at eliminating the need for the state bail-out, reducing it over the next four years. But the bill would redirect some of those stop-gap funds, about $20 million a year, to subsidize McPier operations. The subsidy would be limited to the next four years.
The expectation is that financially strapped McPier would find more revenue sources by the end of four years.
Separately, the cap on a still-to-be-launched incentive fund to lure shows would be raised from $10 million to $20 million.
Doubles McPier’s fees on airport ground transportation. The taxi fee, for instance, would rise from $2 to $4 per ride.
The Chicago convention bureau would get 75 percent of the money, or an estimated $6 million annually, while the Village of Rosemont would get 25 percent, or an estimated $2 million, for its convention center.
The convention bureau board would be restructured and drastically reduced in size, from nearly 100 to 25. Hotel and restaurant industry participation would be limited while representation from the trade show industry and unions would be required.
McPier’s governance would be reworked, ending the two-headed structure by which Chicago’s mayor appoints the board chairman and Illinois’ governor appoints the CEO.
Instead, the CEO will be hired by the board. The mayor and governor would appoint equal numbers of board members, three each for an interim board and later, four each for a permanent board.
Those boards would select an additional member to serve as chairman.
Anyone who has served on previous boards or the interim board would be unable to serve again.