Meet in Chicago

This Mid­west be­he­moth has al­most as many nick­names as it does great meet­ings venues

Business Traveler (USA) - - INSIDE - By Ralf Jack­son Wal­ters

This Mid­west be­he­moth is an ideal “meet-in-the-mid­dle” des­ti­na­tion with al­most as many nick­names as it has great meet­ings venues

Chicago – the city that boasts so many names – is as gi­ant and mer­cu­rial as the great Lake Michi­gan which de­fines its rough edges. One mo­ment the lake is placid and blue with sail boats ply­ing its wa­ters and the next, it’s mean and green with frothy white­caps and a feisty at­ti­tude. Chicago’s nick­names are le­gend:‘The Windy City,’‘The City That Works’and‘The City of Big Shoul­ders.’ You can call the Tod­dlin’Town all of th­ese names, but‘Chi-town’(shy-town), as it’s af­fec­tion­ately called by lo­cals, is‘Sec­ond City’to none.

Founded as Fort Dear­born on the banks of Lake Michi­gan in 1803 and in­cor­po­rated as a city in 1837, this dy­namic metropolis has been for­ever rein­vent­ing it­self since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Le­gend has it that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern, spark­ing a fire that de­stroyed the cen­tral down­town dis­trict and burned a third of the re­main­ing city to the ground.

Be­cause it’s in the heart­land of the Mid­west and the un­of­fi­cial cap­i­tal of the Cen­tral Time Zone, The City That Works is a great place for busi­ness trav­el­ers to con­gre­gate. For those fly­ing in from the east and west, Chicago is an ideal“let’smeet-in-the-mid­dle”des­ti­na­tion that spreads out the jet­lag evenly. By auto, it’s an easy drive within a 500-mile ra­dius of 12 ma­jor cities, in­clud­ing Toronto.

So­phis­ti­cated and ur­bane to­day, Chicago is a pan­cake flat ex­panse of as­phalt with sky­scraper spikes and a peo­ple on the move. More than 400 ma­jor cor­po­ra­tions call it home. Eth­ni­cally di­verse with a pop­u­la­tion of 2.9 mil­lion, you’ll find global cui­sine and warm hos­pi­tal­ity. The‘City of Neigh­bor­hoods’has 75 of­fi­cially rec­og­nized en­claves, each one pos­sess­ing a proud her­itage and unique fla­vor. Sur­rounded

Chicago to­day has sus­tain­able build­ings than any other US city

by a ro­bust col­lar of ex­pand­ing sub­urbs that eat corn­fields for break­fast, the metropoli­tan area which in­cludes parts of In­di­ana and Wis­con­sin has a pop­u­la­tion of 9.5 mil­lion, mak­ing it the third largest in US rank­ings.

Never to be out­done, Chicago touts it­self as a world-class global city for meet­ings, in­cen­tives, con­fer­ences and events. Mayor Jane Byrne (the city’s first and only fe­male mayor) in the late 1970s set out to soften its smoke­stack, work­ing-class im­age and tough-guy, Al Capone rep­u­ta­tion. In her one and only term, she trans­formed 3,300 foot-long Navy Pier from an ag­ing World War I era cargo cen­ter into a pre­mier as­set, at­tract­ing tourism and events.

About a decade later, Mayor Richard M. Da­ley (son of one of Chicago’s most leg­endary may­ors, Richard J. Da­ley, aka “Hiz­zoner”) set out to es­tab­lish Chicago as one of the green­est in Amer­ica. From green mu­se­ums and green ar­chi­tec­ture to eco-friendly O’Hare Air­port, which boasts so­lar panels and the world’s first aero­ponic gar­den pro­vid­ing fresh pro­duce and herbs year-round for its restau­rants, Chicago to­day has more LEED-cer­ti­fied, sus­tain­able build­ings and the most green rooftops of any US city. From City Hall to McDon­alds, 200-plus green rooftops

cov­er­ing 2.5 mil­lion square feet are help­ing keep Chicago’s air fresh.

It’s green at street level too. Chicago is busi­ness-friendly and known for be­ing metic­u­lously clean. From the“Gold Coast” to Michi­gan Av­enue’s“Mag­nif­i­cent Mile” to Mil­len­nium Park and“South Loop,” Chicago abounds with first-class ho­tels, restau­rants, shops and sights to see, all dressed up within a short walk­ing dis­tance from its spec­tac­u­lar lake­front and beau­ti­ful tree-lined parks.

The City of Big Num­bers

With ma­jor con­ven­tion cen­ters and show­rooms like time-hon­ored in­sti­tu­tions McCormick Place Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and The Mer­chan­dise Mart, and a mul­ti­tude of other meet­ings and con­ven­tion venues scat­tered through­out the metro area, Chicago is a city that works when it comes to host­ing busi­ness trav­el­ers from around the world. In May 2012 Chicago hosted the 25th NATO SUM­MIT, and city lead­ers con­tinue to work hard to win a bid to host the World Olympics.

In­ter­na­tional tourists are at­tracted to Chicago’s core in­sti­tu­tions and renowned at­trac­tions like Broad­way in Chicago, The Field Mu­seum, Mu­seum of Science and In­dus­try, the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago and Shedd Aquar­ium.“Chicago pro­vides un­par­al­leled cul­tural and en­ter­tain­ment op­tions through ev­ery sea­son,”says David Mosena, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Mu­seum of Science and In­dus­try.

Other pop­u­lar and less in­sti­tu­tional year-round at­trac­tions in­clude tons of night club venues for all kinds of mu­sic, in­clud­ing clas­sic Chicago Blues, scores of com­edy clubs in­spired by fa­mous Sec­ond City of Satur­day Night Live fame, over 200 crit­i­cally ac­claimed theatre com­pa­nies which af­ford bud­ding ac­tors the chance to hone their craft be­fore head­ing off to Broad­way or Hol­ly­wood, count­less eth­nic restau­rants, large pro­fes­sional sports venues, and art gal­leries galore.

Be­sides its big name tal­ent, Chicago’s a city of big num­bers. Stand­ing ma­jes­ti­cally at 1,729 feet, the Wil­lis Tower (for­merly the Sears Tower) is the tallest build­ing in the Western Hemi­sphere. Chicago boasts some of the world’s best food, cul­ture, spirit and ar­chi­tec­ture.You can find restau­rants, fast food joints and bars on most ev­ery street. Ac­cord­ing to the US Cen­sus Bureau there are 16,564 eat­ing es­tab­lish­ments and 1,630 wa­ter­ing holes and night­clubs.

As proof of its grav­i­tas as a tourist and meet­ings mecca, Chicago is crit­i­cally ac­claimed as hav­ing some of the best (as well as largest) ho­tels in the na­tion. In 2012, 1.8 mil­lion room nights were booked into 110,000 guest rooms in the Chicagoland area. There are more than 120 ho­tels and 35,000 ho­tel rooms in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict alone, all within five miles of mam­moth McCormick Place, the largest con­ven­tion space in the na­tion. This im­mense fa­cil­ity has over 2.6 mil­lion square feet of ex­hibit halls, 170 meet­ing rooms and 600,000 square feet of meet­ing room space. Ho­tel oc­cu­pancy at the end of 2012 was 75.2 per­cent, match­ing the pre­vi­ous record set in 2007.

“Chicago is clearly among the pre­mier vis­i­tor des­ti­na­tions in the world,”boasts Don Welsh, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Chicago Con­ven­tion and Tourism Bureau. Aver­age daily room rates of $177.23 in 2012 were up 5.6 per­cent com­pared to the year be­fore. As ev­i­dence of its im­pact on the lo­cal econ­omy, Welsh says the vis­i­tor in­dus­try is di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for 128,000 jobs, $12 bil­lion in di­rect spend­ing and $725 mil­lion in tax rev­enue for the city. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has set a Vis­i­tors goal of 50 mil­lion an­nu­ally by 2020 and a Top Five Cities national rank­ing for num­ber of in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors.

With 2,750 daily in­bound/out­bound flights to nearly 200 world­wide des­ti­na­tions, fly­ing into Chicago’s O’Hare or Mid­way Air­port pro­vides a vis­ual im­age of why The City That Works works so well. It’s a gi­ant grid laced with rapid tran­sit, bus routes, ma­jor free­ways and high­way ar­ter­ies with di­ag­o­nal thor­ough-fares that ef­fi­ciently criss­cross the city.

Left your GPS at home? No need to worry. With the Lake and its long strand of beaches stak­ing out Chicago’s eastern bound­ary, all you need to know to get from one place to an­other is the ad­dress and street name along with the num­ber of its in­ter­sect­ing street and you’ll know ex­actly where you’re go­ing and how many miles (eight blocks to a mile) it is from the down­town core, which is ad­dress­ground zero. So go and have fun ex­plor­ing with­out the worry of get­ting lost.

Chicago has plenty of mam­moth venues to choose from, but if you want to make a mem­o­rable im­pres­sion on your guests, per­haps a more eclec­tic meet­ing place will give your brand that ex­tra boost that is wor­thy of the time and ex­pense. BT

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