A meeting planner's kind of town
A decade is a long commitment, but one the American Society of Clinical Oncology gladly made to the city of Chicago. In September, ASCO announced that the society would hold its annual meeting at Chicago’s McCormick Place for the next 10 years.
“Chicago is a terrific town for ASCO for so many reasons—the convention center, the hotel space, the cultural offerings, the restaurants. We are so pleased that our annual meeting has found such a welcoming and hospitable home for the next decade,” says ASCO CEO Allen S. Lichter, M.D. “We are very glad to be entering this partnership with Chicago.”
The Second City played host to ASCO’s 2008 annual meeting, and 70% of attendees rated their overall experience in Chicago as “very good” or “excellent.” With its annual meeting continuing to grow—the 2009 event had more than 29,000 attendees—the association’s leaders wanted to identify a city that could not only accommodate one of the world’s largest medical association meetings, but also provide the convenience and atmosphere attendees desire.
Chicago easily fits that bill. The city has two major international airports, is easily walkable, has an expansive public transportation system and the second-largest fleet of taxis in the nation. Atmosphere abounds in this diverse and culturally expansive city, be it the lakefront, Millennium Park, the Magnificent Mile, amazing museums or the world-class culinary scene. Whether it’s a large event, such as the ASCO annual meeting, or something a bit more intimate, the city has attractive and affordable space to meet planners’ needs.
“Chicago is the city that works,” says Michael Panko, director of sales and marketing for Hyatt Regency McCormick Place (mccormickplace.hyatt.com). “With a vast number of hotels of diverse sizes and makeup, we are able to accommodate almost any type of meeting or event successfully. With the economy still finding its feet, the availability is plentiful, and there are outstanding deals to go along with the welcoming atmosphere that Chicago’s hospitality community affords.”
And, as Vicki Poplin, director of sales and marketing at The James hotel adds, it’s a great town to mix business and pleasure. “Chicago is perceived as a business destination and can fly under the radar for those companies still concerned with the AIG effect,” she says. “But not only is Chicago a great place to meet, there is so much to do for leisure as well.”
Joe LaBreche, director of sales and marketing at Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, agrees: “While we may be called the Second City, we are second to none in terms of world-class dining, cultural attractions and shopping. Combine that with our unique brand of Midwestern hospitality, and meetings in Chicago are ones that will always be remembered.”
MAJOR MEETING VENUES
The nation’s largest convention center, McCormick Place, located along the shore of Lake Michigan and just minutes from downtown Chicago, has 2.6 million sq. ft. of exhibition space (1.2 million of that is all on one level) and 600,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. Four buildings—McCormick Place North, McCormick Place South, Lakeside Center and the West Building—comprise the convention and meeting center. The campus is linked by an expansive series of pedestrian promenades and sky bridges, where attendees will find retail shops, cafes, restaurants and other amenities.
The facility features 173 meeting rooms, four ballrooms (of which two are the largest in the city), assembly seating for 18,000 people, a 4,249-seat theater and ceiling heights up to 50 feet. Getting to the facility is convenient. A two-lane, 2.5-mile dedicated busway between McCormick Place and downtown allows charter buses for convention and trade shows to bypass local traffic. And with approximately 46 million people living within a one-day drive of the city, the center features easy access to 5,000 parking spaces.
The only hotel connected to the convention center, the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place features 800 newly renovated guest rooms with city views, the 12,000-square-foot Regency Ballroom, two 750-square-foot boardrooms, four 700- to 1,000-square-foot meeting suites and the Hyatt Conference Center with 25,011 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space. Both the conference center and the hotel are connected to McCormick Place via enclosed skybridges.
Offering more than 228,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting and exhibit space and more than 2,000 guest rooms is the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Located within the Magnificent Mile, the Four-Diamond hotel includes many on-site dining choices such as Stetson’s Chop House and The Bistro at 151 and is undergoing a transformation.
According to John Schafer, vice president and managing director, Hyatt Regency Chicago, the elaborate renovation began with the West Tower guest rooms followed by the renovation of the East Tower guest rooms, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2010.
With more than 234,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and 1,544 rooms, the Hilton Chicago offers planners ballrooms, exhibition halls, executive boardrooms and smaller salons. The hotel’s conference center features Executive Level suites that include special registration, afternoon hors d’oeuvres and a private concierge.
A city landmark, it debuted in 1927 as The Stevens Hotel, and recently reflagged as the Chicago Hilton and Towers, featuring 3,000 luxurious rooms, an 18-hole rooftop golf course, its own hospital and a 1,200-seat theater. In 1942, the property served as a barracks for the U.S. Army and returned to civilian life the following year. In 1985, a $185-million renovation re-established it as a premier property. Today, planners will find ’20s grandeur with modern-day comforts.
Located on Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is one of the city’s most popular visitor attractions and offers meeting planners state-of-the-art capabilities and more than 170,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. The facility also features more than 48,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, an 18,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom with lake views, more than 50,000 sq. ft. of multi-use reception areas, easy accessibility by taxi and charter bus drop-off locations, plus enclosed parking for 1,800 vehicles.
The pier features a 15-story Ferris wheel, musical carousel, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, a 3-D Imax theater, several themed restaurants and a huge indoor botanical park.
The Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, with 1,209 guest rooms and suites, also has 120,000 sq. ft. of meeting space, 34 breakout meeting rooms, the 40,000-square-foot Sheraton Chicago Ballroom, the 35,000-square-foot River Exhibition Hall, a full-service business center and a separate convention registration. Shula’s and Chicago Burger Company are just two of the six restaurants and lounges you’ll find on property for your dining and entertainment needs.
Traveling for business is a treat at The Peninsula Chicago, which is on the Magnificent Mile, just minutes from the financial district and a short cab ride to McCormick Place. The Five-Star, Five-Diamond property also features 339 guest rooms and 9,500 sq. ft. of meeting space, including the 4,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom as well as four on-site restaurants for group dining.
Suite terrace at The Peninsula Chicago.
Last spring, the Four-Diamond Swissôtel Chicago unveiled its $23-million renovation. Guest rooms increased to 661, including 40 suites and a new state-of-the-art, 38,000-square-foot event center, creating a total of 65,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. The all-glass triangular hotel is located where Lake Michigan meets the Chicago River, creating views from Navy Pier to Millennium Park and the Magnificent Mile.
In 2008, the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park completed a $50-million renovation and offers planners 62,000 sq. ft. of meeting and function space and 687 renovated and expanded guest rooms. The renovation included a new 11,000-square-foot spa and the debut of the Eno Wine Room, a chocolate, cheese and wine hot spot.
The Four-Diamond hotel is a few minutes taxi ride from McCormick Place and within walking distance of the Magnificent Mile, cultural attractions and Navy Pier. Its Eco-Meet program is designed to host green meetings with the goal of minimizing harm to the environment during meetings, conferences and similar events.
The newly renovated, Five-Diamond Four Seasons Hotel Chicago features 22,000 sq. ft. of dedicated conference and banquet facilities and 335 guest rooms and suites. “The hotel is fresh off a complete renovation of its guest room inventory, as well as its eighth-floor Grand Ballroom and event space,” says Joe LaBreche, director of sales and marketing.
The Park Hyatt Chicago has 5,000 sq. ft. of flexible indoor/outdoor function space, including 2,000 sq. ft. of prefunction space and the Grand Salon Ballroom. The property has 198 guest rooms, an elegant 2,000-square-foot Grand Foyer that connects all meeting space, $23 million of museum-quality artwork throughout the hotel, high-speed Internet access in meeting rooms and wireless access in all public areas and guest rooms. Recreational facilities include a 7,000-square-foot health club and full-service spa.
Opened in 2006, The James hotel offers 7,000 sq. ft. of flexible meeting space complete with state-of-the-art audiovisual technology and complimentary wireless in meeting rooms, public areas and guest rooms. Vicki Poplin, director of sales and marketing, notes that the suites-to-rooms ratio allows more of planners’ VIPs to be upgraded.
“Chicago is a great place to bring your spouse and extend your stay to make a vacation out of a business trip,” Poplin adds. “The summers are filled with festivals every weekend. I wish more people knew about our picturesque lakefront, amazing museums, the Magnificent Mile and friendly people. So many guests on their first visit to Chicago are surprised at what the city has to offer. I constantly hear, ‘I had no idea how beautiful this city is and how much there is to do here!’”
Another meetings-worthy property is the Affinia Chicago, which opened in 2008 and features 215 rooms and more than 3,000 sq. ft. of meeting space. Steps from Michigan Avenue, the property includes Marcus Samuelsson’s C-House restaurant and C-View, a posh, rooftop lounge. Planners can choose from the property’s Meetings by Design options—green meetings, brainstorm booster meetings or no-tech meetings—to freshen up events. Flexibility, says director of sales and marketing Roderick Jao, is a great reason to choose Chicago.
“We all know cost is a large consideration,” he says. “Chicago offers planners a great city feel without the overblown fees often associated with large metropolitan areas.”
UNIQUE VENUES AND ACTIVITIES
When you’re ready to take your group out of the hotel or convention center, Chicago abounds with options. The lakefront Museum Campus includes The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium, all of which could be the site of your next great event.
Groups of 5–15,000 can enjoy The Field Museum, located in Chicago’s South Loop and overlooking Lake Michigan. The museum, only about a 10-minute drive from McCormick Place, was founded to house the anthropological and biological collections from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The collections have grown to more than 20 million specimens.
Planners can choose from a variety of spaces including the Stanley Field Hall and a balcony where “Sue,” the largest Tyrannosaurus rex fossil discovered, greets attendees. Or consider event space in the middle of the Evolving Planet exhibition and take guests on a journey through 4-billion years of life on Earth.
You can host events for up to 1,200 attendees at the Shedd Aquarium. Choose from event spaces such as the 255-seat Phelps Auditorium or the Main Foyer, which includes Greek-inspired architecture and marble, bronze and terra cotta sea-life ornamentation. Or impress guests in the Caribbean Reef and Waters of the World Galleries. Attendees can be seated around the aquarium’s signature 90,000-gallon turquoise reef habitat or in one or more of its four elegantly vaulted and themed galleries. Meeting planners can even schedule a silent or narrated reef dive and feeding presentation.
Founded in 1930, the Adler Planetarium was America’s first planetarium. In 2007, a $1.1-million renovation of its Krock Universe Theater was completed. State-of-the-art technologies were installed, allowing for the presentation of 3-D shows and space visualizations. The following year, the museum hosted the largest-ever International Planetarium Society Conference, welcoming more than 600 guests. Your group of 50–1,000 can also enjoy this city treasure.
New to the city, the 24.5-acre Millennium Park opened in 2004 and includes event spaces throughout the grounds. There’s an outdoor music venue, the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Emulating the movements of an orchestra conductor, it’s among the world’s most technologically advanced outdoor concert spaces. Or consider one of the following: the Choral Rehearsal Room, the Rooftop Terrace (available for outdoor events from April through October), the Chase Promenade (great views of the Chicago skyline and the Cloud Gate sculpture designed by Anish Kapoor) or tree-lined Wrigley Square.
Let attendees mingle with great company—Monet, van Gogh, Renoir—at the Art Institute of Chicago. The museum offers 30,000 sq. ft. of event space, including its newest event spaces in the Modern Wing. Also consider the institute’s other galleries, gardens, the historic Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room or the classic Millennium Park Room.
An affordable option just 25 minutes outside of Chicago is Southland, a charming area filled with art galleries, restaurants, golf courses and more. The Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau can help planners host a successful event in the area, starting with the Tinley Park Convention Center. The property is currently undergoing a massive expansion to more than double its size, slated for completion in May 2011. It will offer 58,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 18 breakout rooms between 750–4,000 sq. ft., as well as state-of-the-art A/V and 1,500 complimentary parking spaces. The center’s adjoining hotel, Holiday Inn Tinley Park, is also set to debut 68 brand-new guest rooms, bringing its grand total to 270.
Another option on the outskirts of the city is Rosemont. Served by the Rosemont Convention and Visitors Bureau, it is conveniently located directly between the Chicago O’Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago, and offers a variety of meeting options. Standouts include the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, with 840,000 sq. ft. of exhibition space and a 30,000-square-foot lobby; the 18,500-capacity All State Arena, which includes an adjacent 12,500 sq. ft. of meeting space; and the Rosemont Theatre, which can accommodate 1,000–4,300 event attendees. Meetings hotels include the Intercontinental Chicago O’Hare, with 556 rooms,70 suites and 53,000 sq. ft. of event space.
April Miller is a freelance travel, golf and business writer based in the Midwest. She is the former editor of Golf Event Media magazine.
Chicago is North America’s only dual hub for commercial air travel, making it easy to get to from almost anywhere. O’Hare International and Midway InternationalThe Sears Tower. At 1,454 feet it’s one of the world’s tallest buildings, with an enclosed airports offer thousands of flights daily. Those include direct nonstops or direct global gateway to 71 international and 165 domestic nonstop and direct destinations. Chicago is serviced by more than 50 different airlines.
- The Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). At 1,454 feet it’s one of the world’s tallest buildings, with an enclosed skydeck observatory on the 103rd floor.
- Chicago Chocolate Tours, a walking and tasting tour of unique chocolate shops.
- A comedy show at The Second City where you can have an original, customized program created for your group.
- The world-renowned plant collections and displays at the Chicago Botanic Garden.