Chicago's Windy City Attractions

New venues infused with history remind planners what makes this city special

Windy City Loop River

Few cities are able to stay on the cutting-edge of culture while preserving and showcasing local history as well as Chicago. Case in point is the new Kimpton Gray Hotel. Set in the 15-story former New York Life Building in Chicago's central Loop district, this is the Kimpton brand's fifth Chicago property (and fourth adaptive reuse project). The 293-room hotel was designed with historic fabric on the interior; as well as limestone, and granite, and terracotta on the façade, creating a striking property that embraces its history (dating back to 1894) while boasting thoroughly modern meetings offerings. These include almost 13,000 square feet of event space, including a 2,800-square-foot ballroom, and three top-notch culinary spots (the South American-infused Boleo, seasonal menus at Steadfast, and sophisticated drinks at Vol. 39).

"While Chicago has maintained a position as one of the leading destinations for meetings and groups, there is always a need to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate what the Chicago experience is in order to stay competitive," says David Whitaker, president and CEO of Choose Chicago. "In addition to new hotels that have opened in the city since January 2015 -- 14 in all -- redevelopments and new developments are under way, highlighted by the continued expansion of McCormick Place including the soon-to-open 10,000-seat event center and the 1,200-room Marriott Marquis."

Another property showcasing the best of the past and future is LondonHouse Chicago, a 452-room luxury hotel built in the former London Guarantee and Accident Building near the Chicago River -- complemented by a new 22-story Modernist tower. Its 13 event spaces range from the boardrooms to ballrooms, adding up to approximately 25,000 square feet of meeting space.

These properties join other historic venues that have become hotels, including the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, Art Deco-style Hampton Inn Chicago Downtown, and funky Virgin Hotel Chicago (with three flexible event spaces of its own: The Manor, The Sandbox, and Founder's Room). Also recently opening their doors: Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago as well as Loews Chicago Hotel.

Among the city's renewed spaces are the Navy Pier, celebrating its centennial by undergoing major changes to make it greener and more contemporary. Among these are a wave wall -- designed by famed architect James Corner -- offering views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline, an interactive fountain, and an illuminated grand staircase. As this was the city that introduced the Ferris wheel to the world (at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition), it's also quite fitting that the Navy Pier will be unveiling a new, taller wheel as part of the celebration.
The coming months will also see the final stages of Chicago's Riverwalk Expansion. Visitors will be able to gape at the ingenuity of the river's diverted flow from the newly expanded Chicago Riverwalk, designed as a recreational space and expected to complete its third and final development phase this year.

The Windy City has also seen the arrival of a number of new and innovative event spaces. The contemporary loft space Chez offers floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass staircase, while The Geraghty provides 25,000 square feet of open space and a private green room. Motor Row Brewing, in South Loop, boasts three tap rooms available for private groups, while Pinstripes entertains groups with bowling, bocce, and Italian-American cuisine.

A city famous for its culinary offerings, Chicago is also seeing a number of new restaurants, which Whitaker describes as "one of the most impressive dining scenes in the country." The restaurant Intro rotates its menu seasonally, spotlighting different up-and-coming local chefs while Fulton Market Kitchen is offering up artistic décor and creative cocktails.

"The city continues to buzz with unique neighborhood experiences, expanded public green spaces like the Chicago Riverwalk or The 606 elevated trail, and coming soon the Obama Presidential Center," adds Whitaker.

The 606, a three-mile elevated biking and walking path, will stretch from Humboldt Park to the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhoods, providing a wheel-friendly event plaza, observatory, and art installations. The city also opened up the new Maggie Daley Park, with an ice-skating rink, climbing walls, play garden, tennis courts, and picnic groves.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.


ESSENTIAL Tool Box
CONVENTION CENTERS & FACILITIES
McCormick Place
(2.6 million sf of exhibit space)

ROOM TAX
17.4 percent


READERS RECOMMEND

PINNACLE AWARDS GO TO:

• Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau
• Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
• Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort & Conference Center
• Hyatt Regency Chicago
• Kinzie Hotel
• Silversmith Hotel and Suites
• The Gwen, a Luxury Collection Hotel
• The Ivy Hotel
• The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago

WHERE TO…
STAY - AC Hotel Chicago Downtown
This 224-room hotel underwent a rebranding and overhaul in 2015, and offers almost 3,000 square feet of flexible venue space spread over five event rooms -- not to mention a central location near many of the city's top corporate hubs.

MEET - The Palmer House Hilton
In a city of historic properties, this one stands out, with a dramatic history dating back to the early 1870s. Guests have included U.S. presidents and Oscar Wilde, and it was the first hotel to use elevators and Edison lightbulbs. Its meeting offerings are on par with such a heritage, with more than 130,000 square feet of meeting space, 77 breakout rooms, and four ballrooms.

EAT - Rural Society
Located in the new Loews Chicago Hotel, this Argentine-infused steak house from Iron Chef Jose Garces balances the rustic and luxurious, with a welcoming décor and a number of rooms that can be secured for groups from 14 to 125 attendees.


The coming months will also see the final stages of Chicago's Riverwalk Expansion. Visitors will be able to gape at the ingenuity of the river's diverted flow from the newly expanded Chicago Riverwalk, designed as a recreational space and expected to complete its third and final development phase this year.

The Windy City has also seen the arrival of a number of new and innovative event spaces. The contemporary loft space Chez offers floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass staircase, while The Geraghty provides 25,000 square feet of open space and a private green room. Motor Row Brewing, in South Loop, boasts three tap rooms available for private groups, while Pinstripes entertains groups with bowling, bocce, and Italian-American cuisine.

A city famous for its culinary offerings, Chicago is also seeing a number of new restaurants, which Whitaker describes as "one of the most impressive dining scenes in the country." The restaurant Intro rotates its menu seasonally, spotlighting different up-and-coming local chefs while Fulton Market Kitchen is offering up artistic décor and creative cocktails.

"The city continues to buzz with unique neighborhood experiences, expanded public green spaces like the Chicago Riverwalk or The 606 elevated trail, and coming soon the Obama Presidential Center," adds Whitaker.

The 606, a three-mile elevated biking and walking path, will stretch from Humboldt Park to the Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhoods, providing a wheel-friendly event plaza, observatory, and art installations. The city also opened up the new Maggie Daley Park, with an ice-skating rink, climbing walls, play garden, tennis courts, and picnic groves.  



Questions or comments? Email [email protected]



This article appears in the November 2016 issue of Successful Meetings.