Updated 1/26/21. Chicago moved to tier 1 of Illinois's Resurgence Mitigations over the weekend, which includes gatherings of 25 guests or 25 percent of overall capacity, both indoors and outdoors. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has lifted the stay-at-home order in the city. All of these positive signs are helping officials at Choose Chicago, the city's convention and visitors bureau, to see brighter days ahead. "We are hoping the reopening guidelines change soon, since the vaccine is being distributed throughout our city and state," says Marc Anderson, COO of the CVB. "This could change at any moment."
Poised to welcome meeting planners and their attendees back to the Windy City, the 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 Anderson.
Under new restrictions:
- Restaurants can reopen for indoor dining, with capacity limits of 25 percent or 25 persons per room, whichever is fewer;
- There is a maximum of four people per table indoors;
- Indoor service is not allowed for establishments that do not serve food; and
- Outdoor, delivery and takeout service continues under updated hours.
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 Upgrades
One of many claims to fame in the Windy City is its that its convention complex is the largest in the United States, with 2.6 million square feet of space. Since last March, sadly, the campus has not been able to host any events. But that doesn't mean there has been no activity at the facility.
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.
"Our clients are looking forward to returning," says Clark, hoping that the first event on the books, the National Restaurant Association Show, will actually take place May 22-25. "They have experienced the business impact of not meeting in person and the frustration with the challenges of meeting virtually. Technology has not found a substitute for the ability to connect face-to-face or to be able to touch, feel or experience a new product."
She 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. Perhaps fittingly, 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 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.
To explore hotels that currently are operating in the city, click here.
What Else Is Open in the Windy City
All of Chicago's outdoor attractions, restaurants and parks are open, following new safety precautions and limited capacities. Bars can only serve outside and, along with restaurants, must be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
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.
Outdoor parks like Millennium Park and the Chicago Riverwalk are welcoming visitors, although some amenities are unavailable. Indoor venues, such as the Art Institute of Chicago and other museums, remain closed for now.
Find out more on Choose Chicago's constantly updated What's Open page.