CHICAGO (CBS)– The Chicago Auto Show will return in July, marking the first large convention since the start of the pandemic, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she not only hopes it will be just the first major convention to return this summer, but that the city can fully reopen by July 4.

“We will be one of the first cities to fully and safely reopen in the nation,” Lightfoot said as she and Gov. JB Pritzker announced the return of the Auto Show to McCormick Place.

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The Chicago Auto Show, the largest and longest-running of its kind in the nation, will be held July 15 to July 19 at McCormick Place.

“I think everybody is really excited about this announcement, because of what it represents,” Lightfoot said Tuesday morning.

The mayor noted that, a year ago at this time, McCormick Place had been shut down and turned into an alternate care facility, filled with hundreds of hospital beds, designed to ease the burden on local hospitals in case they became overwhelmed as COVID-19 cases were climbing during the first surge of the pandemic.

“I have many memories of 2020, some that I will remember for a lifetime, and one of the grimmest was being in a meeting at City Hall with [Chicago Federation of Labor president] Bob Reiter and other leaders from organized labor, and others, to talk about the fact that we had to close down McCormick Place to keep people safe,” she said. “It was a grim day. It was a sad day. People were worried about their livelihoods. But now we’re back. More than a year later, Chicago conventions are now able to safely return to this great facility, starting with the 113th edition of the Chicago Auto Show.”

Gov. JB Pritzker said the reopening of McCormick Place for conventions will create thousands of hours of work for union workers, and is a “critical step” in the state’s recovery from the pandemic.

“Since 1901, the Chicago Auto Show has brought smiles and excitement to our city. So many of us have brought our families to the Auto Show, we have test driven cars here, and we looked at the future and imagined the fun of driving the next cool concept car. All the fun is back, and I for one can’t wait,” he said.

Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Larita Clark said officials began working with the Auto Show last summer to come up with a safety plan for this year. Last year’s Auto Show, held in February, was one of the last conventions held in Chicago before the pandemic.

“We can hardly wait to return to our mission of creating job opportunities and being an economic engine for the state of Illinois, the city of Chicago, and our local economy,” Clark said.

The Auto Show will be held in Hall F of the convention center’s West Building, and the event will be partly held outside for the first time ever. Test drives, technology demonstrations, and more will be available along Indiana Avenue and other streets outside of McCormick Place.

All tickets must be purchased online, and will have staggered entrance times to limit congestion. Masks will be required at all times. Guests will have their temperatures scanned, and must fill out a medical questionnaire before they may enter.

Auto Show general manager said Hall F is an ideal location to hold the Auto Show during the pandemic.

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“We knew we had to design the show to fit the situation we found ourselves in, so we reduced the size and shortened it, and made it less expensive for the automakers to participate,” he said. “If you were going to design a place to try to pull off an event like this, wouldn’t it look like this? Forty-foot ceiling, overhead fans, the best filtration that money can buy. This place is designed for what we’re trying to do, and we’re so lucky to be here and have it.”

In addition to test drives on Indiana Avenue, Sloan said Auto Show organizers are seeking permission to host a street festival in the evenings, featuring local food and entertainment, in addition to new cars and trucks.

Lightfoot and Pritzker said they expect the Auto Show to be just the first convention to return this summer, although the mayor stopped short of confirming other major festivals such as Lollapalooza or the Air & Water Show also would be back this year.

“Don’t skip to the end of the chapter. There’s more that’s coming. We feel very confident about what the summer is going to look like,” she said. “We can’t predict the future, but we feel very confident, if we continue to follow the public health guidance and get people vaccinated, that this summer is going to be very different, very festive, and we’re going to bring arts and culture and music back to the city, which I think will be a great boost to all of us.”

The mayor has repeatedly said she believes this summer will look more like 2019 than the pandemic summer of 2020.

Lightfoot said her goal is to have the city fully reopen by July 4, with no capacity limits on businesses or public gatherings.

“Every day that our COVID-19 metrics tick downward brings us a day closer to being able to put this pandemic in the rearview mirror, and we are too close to accomplishing this mission to give up now,” Lightfoot said.

Pritzker said, as COVID-19 metrics improve across the state, all of Illinois is on track to do just that.

“Of course, we have to make sure that we don’t see another surge of the virus, and the best way to do that is for everyone to get vaccinated,” Pritzker said.

However, even if the city and state are able to fully reopen by July 4, the mayor said she expects people likely will continue wearing masks in public well into 2022, if not longer, even if mandates are dropped.

“The reality is, people are going to wear a mask, and I think that’s a good thing,” she said. “We’ve seen, from the experience of Asian countries, for example, that have had successive crises around public health, now it’s standard fare for people to wear masks. I think that’s going to be something that we see here in the U.S. for probably at least the next year, if not further beyond that.”

Before moving to a full reopening, the city and state must first enter the “Bridge Phase” of Pritzker’s reopening plan, which will allow for a gradual increase in capacity limits for businesses and public gatherings as vaccinations continue to climb.

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Pritzker has said he expects Illinois will be able to begin the “Bridge Phase” within the next week or so.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff