Legislation aims to bring conventions back to Chicago

January 11, 2010 4:42:04 PM PST
Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley have unveiled legislation they say would bring conventions back to the Windy City.WATCH THE VIDEO: Complete news conference video of Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn talking about the legislation

Several major trade shows have abandoned Chicago blaming high costs at McCormick Place.

There are some serious dollars at stake.

For years, Chicago has been considered by many to be the prime convention spot in the country. But it's also among the most expensive. And the high costs in a difficult economy have created openings for cities like Orlando and Las Vegas to lure away conventions from Chicago - like the plastics show that called Chicago home for nearly four decades now headed to Orlando.

"This is like a crisis. It's exploding, unfortunately, every day. The fireworks will go off," said Daley.

Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) officials are joining Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn in proposing major legislation they say will make Chicago more competitive in the convention business. They want to audit contractors to help keep costs in line. They also want to restructure debt that is now drawing millions from the state's general fund. And they want to turn the workforce into public employees who would be prevented from going on strike.

"We want to make sure that conventions have a certainty that when they come to Chicago the convention will take place," said Quinn.

"In order to get these work rules so that they are competitive with everyone else in the country, we need to pull that labor into the public sector for a very short period of time, two or three years," said John Gates, MPEA chairman.

Mayor Daley insists the proposals are not anti-union. He says they are designed to create and preserve jobs.

The head of the Chicago Federation of Labor issued a statement saying, "the unions at McCormick Place have agreed to significant changes three times in the last 15 years to wages and work rules in order to reduce costs and provide more flexibility. But as we've seen, these costs haven't been passed along to the customer and we find ourselves again looking for ways to remain competitive. We need to have some transparency that shows where these costs are coming from."

But Mayor Daley says you don't have to look far to compare the cost of putting on a convention.

"If Rosemont can be competitive in this day, why can't McPier? Simple as that," said Daley.

Governor Quinn estimates there are about 65,000 convention related jobs at stake. The proposals are only proposals. Some lawmakers in Springfield favor a more radical restructuring of the McPier management. But union leaders will have a big say in the final outcome as well.