Chicago Auto Show means return to business for McCormick Place

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For many guests here at the Chicago Auto Show, it's the first big event they've attended since the start of the pandemic.

McCormick Place had to cancel hundreds of events because of COVID but Thursday they're excited to welcome people back.

Bar porter Gilbert Neal has been working at McCormick Place for 23 years. That's 23 auto shows under his belt, but last year, his streak was broken due to the pandemic.

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"It was terrible," Neal said. "Things really got bad for us and the auto show is a part of our life. We love the auto show. It is great show and I'm glad it is coming back at this time."

As a bar porter, Neal is responsible for building and restocking the bars for auto show guest. He's among hundreds of workers being brought back for one of the biggest conventions in the city.

"We have all this activity on campus now," said Larita Clark, CEO of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. "This is the day we've been waiting for. We worked so hard during the pandemic."

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Clark was named CEO of the convention center in January of last year, right before the pandemic began.

It was easily one of McCormick's most challenging years.

"During the pandemic, 230 events cancelled," Clark said. "That was very devastating for us, representing over $3 billion in economic impact to our city. But what we did was while we were waiting to reopen and prepare to reopen as we kept ourselves seen and many of our folks employed to prepare and reopen, we stay engaged with our customers.

"Our mission is to bring in and attract, trade shows, conventions, meetings into the city of Chicago and Illinois from other places so that folks all around the country and even globally can join us here and spend their money in our town and in our state.

"So it means bringing revenue and income to the state. Bringing jobs back into the city and the state and also bringing businesses back to restaurants and hotels in the city and the state."

There's an upbeat spirit throughout the convention center that Neal says is shared by workers across the board.

"I will greet all customer that come to my bar," he said. "I will welcome them. I might even go to try and buy some bag of candies and put it there so when they come they will have some."
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