Updated May 6, 2021. The Windy City will welcome its first large event, the Chicago Auto Show, in the middle of July — and Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city hopes to be fully reopened a couple of weeks prior to that, by July 4.
"Around this time last year, McCormick Place was turned into an alternate-care facility that significantly aided our city during the first wave of Covid-19 — making today's announcement all the more special," said the mayor, who has also announced a host of summer activities in her "Open Culture" initiative. "In the same spirit of collaboration between government, health care, community and corporate partners, we are now able to bring conventions back to our beloved convention center in a way that is safe and reflective of our progress in slowing and stopping the spread of this virus. I look forward to seeing the McCormick Place reopen its doors for the Chicago Auto Show this July and further enhance our city's ongoing Open Chicago initiative."
The city is still in phase four of its reopening plan, which allows meeting venues to welcome events of up to 50 percent capacity, or 50 people, whichever is fewer. All outdoor gatherings are limited to the lesser of 100 people or 50 percent capacity. The lifting of most gathering restrictions will come when the Windy City reaches phase five, but there will still be safety precautions in place to keep Covid-19 at bay. The state of Illinois is in the "Bridge to Phase 5," opening most venues, restaurants and businesses to 60 percent capacity.
Poised to welcome meeting planners and their attendees back to the Windy City, Choose Chicago, the city's CVB, is spreading the news of the health-and-sanitation processes that are becoming normal operating procedures at the airports, hotels and event facilities. "Our local industry is unified, passionate and supportive of our recovery. Trade shows, meetings and events are part of the fabric of our city," says Marc Anderson, COO of the CVB.
Under current restrictions:
- Restaurants can offer outdoor dining, and indoor dining is allowed for with 50 guests per room or 50 percent capacity, whichever is fewer. Six people per table are allowed indoors and 10 people per table outdoors. All sales of alcohol must end at 11 p.m.; dine-in service stops at 1 a.m.
- Bars, taverns or breweries that do not serve food cannot offer indoor service and
all alcohol sales must stop at 11 p.m.
Outside the home, residents must wear face masks and practice physical distancing. All travelers should follow approved guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Touring the Town
Choose Chicago, in collaboration with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns the McCormick Place convention complex, has launched phase 1 of Healthy Meetings Chicago, a digital platform showcasing the health-and-safety practices in place for hosting meetings and events in the city and on the McCormick Place Campus.
“From the moment you leave your home, until the moment that you return, the entire hospitality and travel industry is focused on ensuring the health and safety of our guests,” said Brett Hart, chair of the MPEA. “Healthy Meetings Chicago was designed to help illustrate the new protocols and processes in place.”
The interactive platform is meant to model the journey an attendee would experience as they travel to Chicago, beginning at one of the city’s international airports, continuing with Chicago’s many transportation options, checking into a hotel, arriving at McCormick Place and exploring the city’s attractions and dining options. The digital modules highlight sanitation and health measures along the way, from UV-C light technology and HEPA air-filtration systems to sanitize and cleanse airplanes, to onsite Covid testing and touchless check-in at the airports, the Marriott Marquis Chicago's Commitment to Clean protocols, and the six on-site hygiene managers at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.
McCormick Place Reopens
The Chicago Auto Show, running July 15-19, will be the first event to take place in the convention center since March 2020, according to Choose Chicago.
One of the largest convention facilities in the United States, with 2.6 million square feet of space, McCormick Place and the Chicago Auto Show have worked closely with health and tourism officials to ensure the safety of every attendee, starting with allowing a lower number of attendees at one time. Among the safety measures in place:
- The show has been moved to Hall F in the West Building, using its 470,000 square feet of indoor space and 100,000 square feet of outdoor space;
- Timed entrances and staggered entry have been put in place to prevent congestion on the show floor and at arrival;
- All participants will be required to wear face masks at all times;
- Sanitization stations will be placed throughout the event;
- A contactless delivery system has been set up for tickets; and
- Participants will be scanned for temperatures and they will be required to complete a medical questionnaire before being allowed to enter the show.
"We stand committed to providing a safe environment for all involved and will carefully adhere to the health and safety protocols and guidelines set forth by city and state officials," said Dave Sloan, general manager of the auto show. "McCormick Place is an important economic engine for our city and state, and we take very seriously the responsibility that comes with helping to get it running again."
McCormick Place was one of the first convention venues in the country to pursue GBAC Star accreditation, the cleaning and sanitation designation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council; the facility's certification for establishing and maintaining a cleaning, disinfection and infectious-disease-prevention program was completed in August 2020.
"We can hardly wait to welcome guests back to McCormick Place," says Larita Clark, CEO of the MPEA. "While we have been closed, we have taken this opportunity to make health-and-safety improvements as well as physical improvements to our campus. For example, a new lighting project that was scheduled to occur over several years will be finished this spring."
All of the lights in the convention facility are being replaced, to increase energy efficiency and improve the overall atmosphere. The lighting renovation covers all of the exhibit halls, meeting rooms and parking garages.
McCormick Place staff have also maintained the rooftop garden, another facet of the facility's sustainability program. When Covid-19 hit, the center was in the early stages of planting and they went ahead with that effort, as no one expected the virus to last so long. The produce from the garden usually is used for food-and-beverage services, providing everything from fresh herbs to tomatoes to hops that are brewed into beer. In 2020, the facility instead donated more than 15,000 pounds of produce to food banks.
Clark expects some of the changes that have been made at McCormick Place to remain once gatherings return. "There have been enhancements to meetings and events that will continue far beyond Covid-19," Clark says. "The increased health-and-safety measures will be valuable during cold and flu season, and new and improved technology for hybrid events will expand the reach for our clients to connect with more people around the globe. After almost a year without meetings, people have a renewed appreciation of the value of being able to connect in person."
All has not been totally quiet, however. The 10,387-seat Wintrust Arena, which is part of McCormick Place, has been hosting basketball games without fans, just welcoming the players, coaches and support staff. Also, a number of TV shows and movies, such as Chicago Med, have continued filming on the campus.
New in Town
Even in this strange year, new hotels and venues have debuted. Now open is the Sable Hotel at Navy Pier, a 223-room Curio Collection by Hilton property with 4,200 square feet of meeting space. Its Offshore Rooftop and Bar features a 20,000-square-foot terrace, multiple fire pits and space for a band.
A dual-branded property has been carved out of the former Cook County Hospital. The 107-suite Hyatt House and 103-room Hyatt Place Chicago Medical/University District, which comprise the adaptive-reuse project, opened at the end of July. The properties share more than 4,000 square feet of event space, a 24-hour fitness center, Dr. Murphy’s Food Hall and a museum paying tribute to the hospital’s legacy.
In the financial district, the 234-room LaSalle Hotel is taking over the top five floors of the landmark Continental building, where the JW Marriott Hotel Chicago takes up the first 12 stories. The LaSalle, an Autograph Collection property, is scheduled to debut in October.
The Vista Tower, the third-tallest building in the city, is being rebranded as the St. Regis Chicago. Opening later this year, the hotel will have 393 rooms.
In the West Loop, the Nobu Hotel Chicago debuted in July 2020, and its signature restaurant, Nobu Chicago, opened in October. The 115-room property features skyline views, the 11th-floor Rooftop at Nobu lounge and an indoor tranquility pool. The signature restaurant entices with a 28-foot sushi bar, two private dining rooms, and dishes such as Black Cod with Miso, Yellowtail Jalapeño Sashimi, Crispy Shiitake Salad with Goma Dressing, Kampachi Basil Rocoto Soy and Prime Tenderloin Miso Ponzu.
Also new is the 297-room 21c Museum Hotel Chicago, a brand known for its boutique properties with contemporary-art galleries. When the city's indoor venues open up again, the hotel will be ready to host events in its more than 10,000 square feet of art-filled spaces.
At the University of Chicago, a new event venue was unveiled on the South Side campus in November. The David Rubenstein Forum, managed by Benchmark Hospitality, is a 10-story contemporary structure featuring 70,000 square feet of meeting space. Among the offerings are the 285-seat Friedman Hall auditorium, and the multipurpose University Room, which can hold up to 500 people for a meal or 600 theater-style. On the top floor, the more formal City View Room holds up to 145 and presents expansive views. A street-level wine bar and café, Bardavid, welcomes up to 74 guests, and the forum's main dining room seats 92.
There are plenty of hotels that have reopened in the city.
What Else Is Open in the Windy City
A schedule of cultural events have been announced for the summer. New is “Chicago in Tune,” a citywide festival that will celebrate Chicago’s diverse and legendary music scene and the 2021 Year of Chicago Music. Concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion will be part of the 2021 season of Grant Park Music Festival. The American Ballet Theatre will perform in Millennium Park. New public artworks by Nick Cave, Bob Faust, Andrea Carlson and other celebrated artists will be on display. The Chicago City Markets will return, as well, including the historic Maxwell Street Market.
Many favorite Chicago spots are once again available to visit, and a new purveyor, Lipsmacking Foodie Tours, has expanded to the Windy City with a two-hour Deep Dish Pizza tour.
Also now open are:
- City attractions, museums (such as the Art Institute of Chicago) and performance venues, with safety measures in place and limited capacities;
- All parks, including Millennium Park and the Chicago Riverwalk; and
- All Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife areas, recreational areas and historic sites.
All attractions and events are subject to changes and closures. The CVB strongly recommends confirming the status of attractions and upcoming events by reaching out directly to the venue, or ticket provider before visiting.
Some tours are still being offered by purveyors such as Inside Chicago, a woman-owned small business that is running private and virtual architecture tours; and Chicago Detours, which is running live virtual tours.
Find out more on Choose Chicago's constantly updated What's Open page.