For the past 61 years, the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show has called Chicago home. The show contributes to the city a large portion of the $251 million in tax revenue generated annually by meetings and conventions held at McCormick Place. And in total, annual meeting and convention goers spend close to $8 billion in the state.
However, the rumor mill was once again churning on the NRA Show floor this week as to the fate of its continued convention in Chicago.
On May 24, the third day of the NRA Show in Chicago, a story ran on the local ABC station describing the city's risk of losing the show if Governor Pat Quinn did not sign legislation designed to reform convention labor rules, establish more exhibitor rights and realign McCormick Place operations with its major convention competitors.
"Without signing the bill, which has passed the House and Senate, I cannot endorse Chicago as the most viable option for the restaurant's show," Mary Pat Heftman, executive vice president of the NRA's convention, said in the story.
Quinn did not sign the measure, but the Illinois General Assembly overrode his veto and wrote the historic convention reform into law May 27.
As outlined in the legislation, the new law establishes an 18-month period to develop and implement significant reforms intended to reduce exhibition costs. The legislation covers the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), which owns and operates McCormick Place and Navy Pier.
Total McCormick Place events
Year No. of Events Attendance
2001 89 3,038,484
2002 82 2,852,641
2003 95 3,041,741
2004 82 2,503,363
2005 77 2,220,316
2006 78 2,241,324
2007 112 2,270,551
2008 108 2,288,642
2009 103 2,041,475
* Source: The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau / MPEA
As approved, the MPEA would cease collecting profits from its in-house electrical service and from the private food-service operation at the center, meaning operators can bring in outside food and drink for personal use in booths. It also gives exhibitors the ability to do their own work, regardless of booth size and calls for new labor work rules that reduce crew sizes and requires less overtime pay.
Heftman had been part of the discussions with McCormick Place authorities and legislators about convention center policies for several years.
"The cost of exhibiting has been a challenge for a long time, so this is not a new issue, but it has gained more urgent attention in the past year as several trade shows have left Chicago," said NRA spokeswoman Annika Stensson.
In 2009, there were a total of 50 tradeshows and conventions at McCormick Place and a total attendance of 893,068. While the number of tradeshows and conventions was up from 44 in 2008, the number of attendees is significantly less, with 960,183 reported visitors to McCormick Place conventions in 2008.
If McCormick Place were to lose the NRA Show, it could cost the city an estimated $86.9 million in direct expenditures.
"We have not made a decision about where to hold the NRA Show after 2011, but we are definitely not counting out Chicago as an option," Stensson said. "This legislation is positive for the NRA Show and its exhibitors as it will help Chicago become more competitive as a convention city in regards to cost of exhibiting. We have history in Chicago, and it's a great city."