Daley wants to privatize McCormick Place

February 23, 2010 2:57:24 PM PST
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is pushing privatization as a way to boost the city's sagging convention industry. The mayor claims it will give the city an edge in attracting trade shows to McCormick Place.

Mayor Daley stunned a room of business leaders Monday night when he said government needs to get out of the convention business. ABC7 cameras captured the comment and on Tuesday everyone from the governor on down is saying 'hold on.'

While the politicians are talking, McCormick Place's customers are paying and saying they're not getting a good deal in Chicago.

Lynne Calliott's dental supply company is spending nearly $50,000 to exhibit on a small slice of space at McCormick Place for three days this week.

"This is a huge expense and I don't take it lightly when we have these costs for these trade shows," said Calliott.

These days cost is the consideration trade show organizers cite just before they announce plans to pull out of Chicago. Some of the unions have gone from three-man crews to two and limited the number of hours they charge overtime. McCormick Place is shedding 20 percent of its administrators. None of it's been enough to get the convention center's financial house in order.

"Bring the private sector in, you manage it. Get of the business of McCormick Place in the sense it should be fully privatized," said Daley on Monday.

"Anytime you talk about it you want to make sure you're not in a worse situation," said Governor Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

Tuesday ABC7 caught up with the Mayor in Washington DC where he emphasized he doesn't want to sell McCormick Place like he did the parking meters.

"When you come with a show you would lease the space. You would pay rent and you would lease. McCormick Place would be the owner of the property," said Daley.

Right now there are two major companies who essentially operate conventions for trade shows around the country. They are the middle men. And the unions suspect they are the ones not passing along lower rates to customers.

"The contractors are the ones charging the rates. We don't have anything to with rates they charge. We make $37 an hour," said John O'Malley, Riggers Local 136 president.

"What I do know is this: our work rules are not consistent with our competition and in fact put us at a disadvantage. That I know. I don't need to audit contractors to know that," said Juan Ochoa, Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority.

"One thing goes up and another thing goes down so overall I think my budget still ticks forward," said Calliot.

The boss at McCormick Place insists the convention flight isn't as bad as we portray. He says there's a net loss of only two of 100 annual events. But the convention center is losing money and asking lawmakers for help with a bailout.

A mayoral spokesperson says Daley is simply trying to find creative solutions to keep the tourism and convention industry going.