HistoryColonel Robert R. McCormick

McCormick Place is named in honor of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, a controversial and charismatic visionary who served as editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. It was Colonel McCormick who spearheaded the drive to build a world-class convention center in the city of Chicago.

Under Colonel McCormick’s leadership, the state endorsed construction of a permanent exhibition hall to host conventions and trade shows. Col. McCormick never lived to see his dream become a reality. The facility bearing his name opened in 1960, five years after his death.

1933 — 1969


Century of Progress Exposition (World’s Fair) on the lakefront draws 1,500 conventions and 1.5 million visitors. Unsuccessful attempts are made to build a permanent exposition center.

The city successfully hosts a large railroad exposition, leading Col. McCormick to realize the need for a permanent exhibition hall in Chicago.

With Col. McCormick’s leadership, the State imposed a 1% horse racing tax to finance industrial, scientific, educational and cultural fairs and expositions and created the Chicago Park Fair non-profit corporation. After deciding that a permanent hall was needed, the State endorsed the construction of a facility in Burnham Park.

The state approves construction of a 360,000-square-foot exhibition hall and creates the Metropolitan Fair and Exposition Authority, the forerunner to the present Authority, to operate the facility.

The State issued $41.8 million in bonds. Construction started the following year on McCormick Place, to be named in honor of Col. McCormick who died in 1955.

McCormick Place opens. The facility is financed with $41.8 million in revenue bonds. The building features a main exhibit area of 320,000 square feet, 23 meeting rooms and a 5,000-seat theater.

1970 — 1989


City and state leaders work together to get the new McCormick Place rebuilt in record time. The new East Building, designed by renowned architect Gene Summers of C.F. Murphy Associates, opens with 522,000 square feet of exhibit space, 20 meeting rooms, five theaters and seven restaurants. A total of 51 expositions are held in the first year compared to the previous high of 38.

Bonds for McCormick Place were retired and the horse racing tax proceeds were shifted to retire bonds issued to construct downstate civic centers. The cigarette tax proceeds were shifted back to the State’s General Revenue Fund, with the exception of the State earmarking $4.8 million a year in cigarette taxes into a Reconstruction Fund. The money was initially used to finance the conversion of a former R.R. Donnelly & Sons Co. printing plant into additional trade show exhibit space.

In an effort to keep pace with the demand of the market, State approval is given for the building of a $252 million in dedicated state tax revenue bonds supported by an increase in the hotel tax and earmarked for the construction of annex to McCormick Place (North Building) that contains more than 510,000 square feet of exhibit space and meeting rooms.

An additional $60 million of bonds were issued, backed be the State’s sales tax, to finish completion of the McCormick Place North Building.

With the demand for convention space soaring, the newly built annex, McCormick Place North, comes into full use. The International Machine Tool Show (which is now known as the International Manufacturing Technology Show) is the first show to use the McCormick Place North Building. Building officially dedicated on May 8, 1987.

The Authority successfully refunded the 1984 and 1985 Bonds and authorized the restructuring of the existing escrow account, which provided approximately $27 million in savings to the taxpayers of Illinois.

McCormick Place operations are restructured, joining city-owned Navy Pier under the newly-created Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. A thirteen-member board is appointed by the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago. Restoration of Navy Pier is authorized by the Illinois General Assembly with a $150 million state bond issue.
• Also in 1989, new plans to expand McCormick Place complex are approved by the MPEA board.

1990 — 1999


The Illinois General Assembly authorizes the building and financing of a proposed $987 million expansion to McCormick Place. Will become the South Building. The expansion was financed by those industries deemed to directly benefit from the complex. The funding sources include the following:

• A 6% fee on auto rentals in Cook County
• A 2.5% tax on hotel/motel rooms in Chicago
• A 1% tax on restaurant meals in a downtown district bounded by the Stevenson Expressway, Ashland Avenue and Diversey, as well as meals served at Midway & O’Hare Airports
• A ground transportation fee from O’Hare and Midway Airports

ALSO, the MPEA receives the tax revenue surplus, if any, from the Illinois Sports Facility Authority.

The new McCormick Place South Building opens. The expansion project adds 2.9 million gross square feet to the McCormick Place complex and features 840,000 square feet of exhibition space, plus 160,000 square feet of meeting room space.

With a new look and name, the Lakeside Center (formerly the East Building) reopens. Lakeside Center provides 583,000 square feet of exhibit space and is home to the renovated 4,249 seat Arie Crown Theater.

• In June, the MPEA unveils the $108 million 33-story Hyatt Regency® McCormick Place Hotel. With 800-guest rooms and a 600-car parking garage, the hotel is an integral part of the convention center operations.
• The MPEA embarks on a plan to build a new six level parking garage, conference center, corporate center and a dedicated bus lane designed to connect McCormick Place to downtown Chicago. In July, Governor Jim Edgar signs a bill which allows McCormick Place to issue $100 million in bonds for the project.

The Illinois legislature approves a debt-restructuring plan for the MPEA, which results in the issuance of $270 million of new bonds. Of this amount, $198 million is used for refinancing and $72 million for repairs and new projects at McCormick Place and Navy Pier.

2000 — 2009


MPEA and the Teamsters, Carpenters, Decorators and Riggers union extended through 2005 a historic labor agreement that helps solidify Chicago as a premier convention and trade show destination.

The Illinois Legislature approves the expansion plan for McCormick Place which will add 470,000 square feet of exhibit space and 250,000 square feet of meeting room space including the city’s largest ballroom. The original target date for opening the new McCormick Place West Building is set for 2008.
• In August, to meet the increasing demand for meeting space, the Hyatt Regency® McCormick Place Conference Center opens. The new facility is owned by the MPEA and operated by the Hyatt. The new Hyatt Conference Center and adjoining 2,450 space parking garage are located opposite the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place hotel and the South Building.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority unveils the new McCormick Place busway in January. The new 2.5 mile roadway alongside the Metra /IC Railroad tracks through Grant Park will be used by shuttle buses transporting attendees between McCormick Place and downtown hotels. The new busway is the first of its kind designed for convention and trade show travel. It is jointly operated by the MPEA, the City of Chicago and Metra.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority selects Mc4West, LLC as the design/build team for the McCormick Place West expansion project. The Mc4West team is comprised of essentially the same team that delivered the McCormick Place South expansion on schedule and under budget.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority officially embarks on the next major phase of the evolution of McCormick Place convention center.
• In May, an official groundbreaking ceremony marks the beginning of the construction phase of the McCormick Place West Building. One of the first major milestones of the project includes the successful relocation of the architecturally significant Platt Luggage façade to its new location at 2203 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

• In May, Navy Pier celebrates its 10th anniversary with special festivities and entertainment.
• Also in May, the MPEA establishes the Labor Management Council to review issues related to cost, efficiency and the overall show experience.

The economic impact for the city of the more than 75 events booked into McCormick Place totals nearly $3.4 billion. Almost all shows booked at McCormick Place break records for attendance and exhibitors.
• In January, MPEA officials announce that the West Building will open eight months early and on budget.
• In May, Riggers Union Local 136 signs a precedent-setting five-year labor agreement that results in more efficient service and increased savings for McCormick Place customers.
• In August, the United Steelworkers Local 17 Decorators Union also reaches its own landmark agreement with the show contractors who work at McCormick Place, resulting in more flexibility and reduced costs for both exhibitors and show management.

• In August, the new McCormick Place West Building opens, adding 2.7 million gross square feet of space to the McCormick Place complex and featuring 460,000 square feet of exhibit space; 250,000 square feet of meeting space; one of the world’s largest and most elegant ballrooms.
• In August, McCormick Place West becomes the largest new-construction building in the country to receive the coveted LEED® Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its environmentally-friendly design.

• In June, major trade show contractors and the union representing the largest single group of workers on the trade show floor announced a new collective bargaining agreement designed to further reduce costs for McCormick Place exhibitors and provide them with greater operational flexibility

2010 — Present


• In May, the Illinois General Assembly approves bold and historic legislation to reform labor rules, establish exhibitor rights and realign McCormick Place operations with its major competitors in the convention and trade show industries. The legislation contains the core reforms introduced in January by MPEA officials, the Illinois Governor, and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.

• April – MPEA selects the private convention venue management first, SMG, to run the daily operations of McCormick Place, starting July 1, 2011. SMG is a recognized world leader in convention center management, running more than 220 municipal and private venues in nine countries, including Chicago’s Soldier Field. The selection of a private management firm is a key component of the historic reforms enacted by the Illinois General Assembly in 2010 to streamline operations and lower costs for McCormick Place customers.
• July – MPEA announces the selection of Savor as the new food-service management company for McCormick Place. Savor has been in business for more than 25 years and is focused on providing a high quality culinary experience with impeccable service.
• July – MPEA selects CBG Hotel Design-Builders as the design-build team for the expansion of the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place Hotel. The scope of the project includes a new 462-room guest tower that will rise atop the Hyatt McCormick’s parking deck, plus renovation of the existing 800-room Hyatt hotel and the adjacent Conference Center. The completion date is the latter half of 2013.
• October – MPEA and the labor organizations that represent the McCormick Place workforce reach a settlement on a lawsuit challenging the MPEA’s authority to implement work rule reforms outlined in the May 2010 legislation approved by the Illinois General Assembly. The work rules that show organizers and exhibitors had enjoyed with the passage of the McCormick Place reform legislation on 2010 are now fully restored , effective, November 1, 2011. McCormick Place is now aligned with its major competitors in the convention and trade show industries and is the most customer-friendly destination in the country.

• May – May 16, 2018 – Kerry James Marshall “Past Times” piece sells at auction for $21.1 million at Sotheby’s New York. Originally purchased for $25,000 in 1997 for the McCormick Place South Building Expansion, the oil on canvas painting hung in the S100 corridor for nearly two decades until March 2016 when it was taken off display and loaned to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for a retrospective touring exhibit on Marshall. It’s reported the buyer of the piece is Sean Combs.
• August 18, 2018 – McCormick Place welcomes the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Annual Meeting & Exposition. ASAE ’18 becomes the largest annual meeting and expo for the association since 2007, which was also held in Chicago at McCormick Place. Attendees of ASAE ’18 gathered for a special outdoor street fair reception along Cermak Rd that followed by a performance from country music star and Illinois native Brett Eldredge in the Wintrust Arena.
• September 10, 2018 – The International Manufacturing Technology Show, opens to record numbers: 1,424,232 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 2,123 booths representing 2,563 exhibiting companies – utilizing all exhibit halls of McCormick Place: A,B,C,D,E, and F. Exhibitors brought more than 55 million lbs. of machinery on 4,465 trucks with eight machines weighing more than 100,000 lbs. The 32nd edition of the show also drew a record registration of 129,415 people.
A skybridge to the privately-owned Hilton Tri-Plex opens connecting McCormick Place to an additional 466 guest rooms and suites. The triple braded hotel is a first for the Hilton brand featuring the flags of Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton all under the Hiltons at McCormick Place.

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