Search for McCormick Place manager begins

By Kathy Bergen
Posted Sep. 15, 2010 at 12:35 p.m.

The state-mandated McCormick Place revamp moved into a second phase Wednesday with the launch of a search for a private management firm to run the convention center.

This comes on the heels of broad moves to cut exhibitors’ costs for electrical and food services and to give them greater leeway to do their own booth work.
The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency that owns and operates the complex, is asking private management firms to submit their qualifications. The field will be whittled to a short list, with remaining firms asked to submit more detailed proposals early next year. A final selection is expected by May 27, 2011.

The authority, known as McPier, published its request and sent it to five potential candidates, among them SMG, whose sports and entertainment division has operated Soldier Field for the Chicago Park District since 1994, and Global Spectrum, a part of the Comcast empire. Its senior vice president/convention centers is Tom M. Mobley Jr., who was general manager of McCormick Place from 1992 to 2003.

Mobley was hired in 1992 by Jim Reilly, who at the time was chief executive of McPier and now is the state-appointed trustee overseeing the overhaul of McCormick Place.

Reilly said he doesn’t see any issue arising from his former working relationship with Mobley. “I know a lot of people in the trade show business. If I didn’t, I couldn’t do my job,” he said. “I never had a business relationship with Tom.”

Bids will be evaluated by a five-member team that does not include Reilly, though he will need to approve its recommendation. An independent auditor will monitor the bid process, Reilly told the McPier board at its monthly meeting Wednesday morning.

The request for proposals was sent to three other firms as well: Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., the Chicago-based trade show and property management firm led by Christopher Kennedy; International Facilities Group LLC, a Chicago-based developer and operator of sports and entertainment facilities, led by Michael Reinsdorf, son of Bulls and White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf; and VenuWorks, a facility management firm based in Ames, Iowa.

Also on Wednesday, the McPier board laid the legal groundwork for a bond issue of up to $1.2 billion  next month that will allow the authority to refinance its debt, gain a short-term operating subsidy and revive a long-stalled plan to expand the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, which it owns.

Tvsdesign,  the design architect for a large part of the McCormick Place complex, was awarded a contract not to exceed $3.05 million to prepare the design criteria for the hotel addition, which will include a new 475-room tower over the parking garage. The project, which is expected to go out for bid next year, also will involve renovations to the existing 800-room hotel.

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