Chicago to keep restaurant show

By Kathy Bergen
Posted Nov. 15, 2010 at 3:48 p.m.

While the National Restaurant Association announced Monday that its high-profile trade show will stay put in Chicago through 2016, the city is not quite on terra firma yet.

The association will keep a close eye on whether a new state law aimed at cutting exhibitor costs at McCormick Place is fully implemented — a progression that could be derailed if two trade unions prevail in their challenge of the law in federal court.

“If something changes and the legislation is not able to be enacted the way it was designed and exhibitor rights go away, it becomes more difficult to explain why we would be in Chicago,” Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president/convention for the association, said after a press conference announcing the new pact.

“We are committed through 2016, but we will be watching the implementation very carefully,” she said.

In fact, the restaurant show’s agreement allows it to cancel future shows with three-years’ notice, giving it an exit route if the landscape should change, she said.

Her comments fleshed out a broader statement made during the press conference by Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive of the association. When asked whether the lawsuits’ outcome could affect the group’s new commitment, she said, “We are committed to stay in Chicago through 2016.”

The association decided to sign on for 2012 through 2016, rather than head to Orlando or Las Vegas, primarily because of the new state law that enables exhibitors shave costs by doing a lot of their own booth set up, rather than having to use show-floor union labor.

“Our exhibitors will be able to do the same kind of work in their booths that they can do in every other convention facility in the country,” Heftman said. “Chicago is finally on a level playing field with other cities.”

She said it was too early to estimate what level of cost savings would be realized.

Union representatives have said their members are losing income under the new rules. And their lawsuits claim the new law’s imposition of work rules and conditions violates the unions’ federally protected rights to arrive at terms of employment through collective bargaining.

Jim Reilly, the trustee running McCormick Place during the state-mandated 18-month overhaul, said he doesn’t expect any problem in fully implementing the new state law. The center already has eased show-floor work rules so exhibitors can do more of their own work, and it has cut costs for electrical and food service. And the publicly owned facility expects to shift to private management by July 1, 2011.

“If the court rules against us on the lawsuit, which we think is very unlikely, we’ll have to deal with it when it happens,” Reilly said. An appeal would be one possibility, and going back to the General Assembly for revised legislation is another, he said.

The importance of the restaurant show to Chicago’s reputation as a trade show center was evident Monday when the announcement of the new pact was attended by both Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Pat Quinn, along with an array of other government officials and tourism industry representatives.

Daley said making the show-floor changes have been hard for some to accept, but that the move was essential.

“People don’t like change, you know that, but in order to be competitive, in order to keep these jobs . . . there has to be change,” Daley said. “This place would be empty if not for the changes in Springfield.”

The association’s annual show is not the city’s largest, but it is arguably its most visible, and it has been a cornerstone of the city’s trade show business for 61 years.

The restaurant show drew 58,000 attendees this year, up 6 percent from 2009, which had seen a big drop due to the recession. But on average it draws 66,000 attendees to the city each May, and it is estimated they spend $108 million each year.

A number of other shows, including the International Housewares Association’s annual show, recommitted earlier this year.

Together, the new commitments should generate more than $2 billion in local spending, Quinn said.

“I think that shows very good progress,” he said.

Every so often, the suggestion arises that it might make sense to put a casino at the Lakeside Center, the oldest building at the McCormick Place complex, and that idea was raised again at the press conference.

Reilly said trade show customers have voiced concern that this would drain customers from the show floor, a position that past McCormick Place officials have taken as well. But he said a casino elsewhere in the city could help draw conventions to town.



  1. Chicago 20 Nov. 15, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Here is an article on the restaurant show from last May.

    Restaurant exhibitors eager for change
    Hauling some of their own supplies onto show floor appeals to many,0,979688,full.story

    -“ Lorrie Baumann, editorial director for Oser Communications Group, a Tucson, Ariz.-based restaurant trade magazine publisher, said she paid $10,000 last year just to get materials moved from the loading docks to her booth, and back out afterward.”

    Lorrie Baumann paid GES and the NRA $10,000 last year for what cost GES and the NRA less than $100.

    Why does GES and the NRA charge so much for material handling (drayage)?

    The NRA is charging $28.50 per square foot for this show, plus drayage.

    Pack-Expo was here two weeks ago, they charged $24.50 per square foot and drayage is included.

    Lorrie Baumann would be paying $4.00 less per square foot at the Pack-Expo Show and NOT pay $10,000 for drayage.

    It is the same labor, the same work rules, the same convention center, yet this one small booth is charged over $10,000 more at the NRA Show.

    Multiply that $10,000 by the hundreds of booths at the NRA Show.

    Where are all those profits going?

    How can Mary Pat Heftman explain this to her exhibitors?

    Does this explain why the Pack-Expo Show is growing in size and attendance while the NRA Show is in decline?

    This legislation completely ignores Lorrie Baumann and the other exhibitors.

    Lorrie Baumann is the customer, NOT GES and The National Restaurant Show.

    The legislators need to go back and get it right.

    - Rich Ferrara and Bruno Marsal were hoping to skirt the rules and wheel their own containers of cheese and dough onto the show floor Friday at McCormick Place.
    But the pizza-oven purveyors, who were setting up their booth for the National Restaurant Association show opening Saturday, anticipated getting some flack from union representatives.

    Union Representatives?

    I would bet these people are representing the interests of GES and the NRA, not the union.

    Would Rich Ferrara and Bruno Marsal try to skirt the GES and NRA rules, if drayage was included with their floor space rental at $4.00 less, per square foot, than what GES and the NRA is charging them?

    Why is GES and the NRA charging so much more than the Pack-Expo Show?

    It is the same labor, the same work rules, the same convention center.

    Do you think anyone will try to skirt the rules at the Pack-Expo Show, where drayage is included with the floor space, at $4.00 less, per square foot, than the NRA Show?

    The legislators need to go back and get it right.

    - Another veteran exhibitor said his main beef centered on what show organizers charge for such items as floor space and admissions badges, and he questioned whether the legislation would tackle that.

    “The rates keep going up; they never go down,” said Michael Cornelis, a vice president of Demarle, a New Jersey firm that sells Silpat baking mats.

    No, Michael the legislation ignored that and 90% of the other exhibitor complaints.

    But hey, if you don’t want to pay the inordinate drayage mark-ups of GES and the NRA, next year you will able to lug all those baking mats in by yourself.

    This legislation completely ignores Michael Cornelis and the other exhibitors.

    Michael Cornelis is the customer, NOT GES and The National Restaurant Show.

    The legislators need to go back and get it right.

    The perjury of Mary Pat Heftman of the National Restaurant Association.

    Ms. Heftman of the National Restaurant Show testified labor is not included in Chicago’s price, yet Chicago’s Focus One price sheet clearly states labor is included in the price.

    The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando service is for a single 120v 1500w service. Extension cords and multi-outlets are an extra $24.00 each, and branching is specifically not included.

    The Focus One service is for a multiple (one circuit in multiple locations) 120v 1500w service. Extension cords which are needed for branching are included, multi-outlets are included and an hour of electrical labor, for the floor layout, or branching of the circuit, and tear out is included.

    The $60 perceived difference in OCCC pricing quickly disappears with the additions of just one extension cord and one multi-outlet. The stagehand labor required to branch power or an additional cord would definitely give McCormick Place the advantage.

    Ms. Heftman’s characterization of Focus One’s pricing as being 40% more than Orlando’s is completely false.

    Ms. Heftman is a veteran trade show manager and she is paid to know the differences between Chicago and Orlando.

    It is interesting that Ms. Heftman chose to clarify her testimony using this specific service, if her exhibitor chose the 120v 500w service with one extension cord the cost would be $140 in the OCCC versus $89.00 in McCormick Place.

    Do you think she would have testified that Focus One prices were 40% less than Orlando’s?

    How can the National Restaurant Association charge $28.50 per square foot for its show, when Pack-Expo is only charging $24.50 and including drayage?