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Convention Returning To McCormick Place

McCormick Place (CBS)

McCormick Place (CBS)

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UPDATED 01/10/11 10:58 a.m.

CHICAGO (WBBM/CBS) – McCormick Place is starting the New Year on a good note, after several conventions and trade shows threatened to pull up stakes because of high costs.

Now, a medical trade show has announced plans to return to Chicago, two years after the convention decided not to return to McCormick Place.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the president of Chicago-based Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society said he is pleased to hold the annual conference at McCormick Place in 2015 and 2019.

That is a 180-degree change in attitude from just over a year ago, when he said the group wanted nothing to do with the venue.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Conway reports

Healthcare Information and Management Systems met for the first time at McCormick Place in 2009, drawing 27,000 attendees and generating an estimated $55 million in spending

The show was supposed to return in 2012, but instead chose Las Vegas for cost reasons.

“At that time, we could not justify keeping our conference and trade show here due to high costs compared to other cities,” group president and chief executive officer Stephen Lieber said.

But now, Lieber says with the new flexibility to bring in vendors and have access to cheaper food and rates, his group has decided to return to McCormick Place.

“The figures that we’re hearing coming out of the shows this fall indicate that savings running at least in the neighborhood of 25 percent or greater,” he said.

In addition to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems convention, the International Plastics Exposition announced in the fall of 2009 that it was moving to Orlando, Fla., after being held in Chicago since 1971. Championship Auto Shows Inc. also moved its O’Reilly Auto Parts World of Wheels Show from McCormick Place to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

Conventioneers complained that union fees are too high, and there were too many different unions, jurisdictions and work rules involved in the setup process.

The resulting outrage resulted in a state-mandated overhaul. State lawmakers passed a bill that cut labor costs by allowing exhibitors to do their own setup, and also by letting them use outside electricians and bring in their own food, bypassing convention center unions. It doubled the ground transportation tax charged on trips to and from Chicago’s airports to boost tourism spending.

The changes were what kept McCormick Place alive, Mayor Richard M. Daley said at a news conference with Lieber at the convention center.

“If it wasn’t for the changes, this place would be completely empty,” the mayor said. “There would not be anyone working here, not only direclty, but indirectly. Change has to take place.”

The HIMSS show is also a moneymaker for the tourism industry, bringing in about $33 million from about 30,000 attendees who will shop, eat and explore the city.

“Our competition is coming from other cities, around the world,” Daley continued, “so like anything else, if you don’t change, you live in the past, and if you live in the past you lose, constantly, business, and you lose jobs.”

Mayor Richard M. Daley said even though union groups are not happy with the changes, the reforms are needed to make Chicago more attractive as a convention center.

“There may be some opposition, but there has to be change,” he said. “Everybody changes their lifestyle.”

In the last month, the city says more than a dozen shows have signed on with McCormick Place either for the first time or to return.