Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Building Boom

In 1982, Chicago’s McCormick Place stood at the apex of the nation’s convention centers. With 825, 000 square feet of exhibit space in the main facility and another 330, 000 square feet in nearby Donnelly Hall, it easily surpassed the convention halls of other cities. It routinely hosted the largest collection of major conventions and tradeshows each year, with 24 of the nation’s 150 largest events in 1982 and 27 in 1983, “dominating over two-thirds of the 15 largest events.”1 The list included such blockbuster events as the International Machine Tool Show with 97, 000 attendees in 1983, the National Restaurant Association Show (87, 000), the National Hardware Show (84, 000), and the summer Consumer Electronics Show (72, 000).

But Chicago’s record of tradeshow success did little to dampen the competition from other cities, and the early 1980s saw a growing list of large, new convention facilities. Las Vegas was adding a major expansion to its convention center, bringing its exhibit hall space to 759, 000 square feet—not much smaller than the lakefront building of McCormick Place. New York City was in the process of constructing what would be the Jacob Javits Convention Center, with 700, 000 prime square feet of exhibit space, and some 200, 000 additional square feet of flexible event space. Then there were new, albeit smaller centers under construction in such historically strong visitor destinations as San Francisco, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C.

The success of McCormick Place in hosting the largest national events also came at a price. The dominance of these large events on McCormick’s calendar led to a “feast or famine” impact on Chicago’s hotel and restaurant business, with a surge of demand from a major show followed by a downswing, as exhibits for one event were moved out and another show moved in. The public authority owner of McCormick, the Metropolitan Fair and

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Convention Center Follies: Politics, Power, and Public Investment in American Cities
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Part I - The Race to Build 1
  • Chapter 1 - Building Boom 3
  • Chapter 2 - Paying for the Box 42
  • Chapter 3 - Promises and Realities 85
  • Chapter 4 - They Will Come… and Spend 124
  • Chapter 5 - Missing Impact 150
  • Part II - From Economics to Politics 209
  • Chapter 6 - Chicago- Bolstering the Business District 211
  • Chapter 7 - Atlanta- Enhancing Property Values 260
  • Chapter 8 - St. Louis- Protection from Erosion 341
  • Conclusion - The Cities Business Builds 430
  • Note on Sources 453
  • Notes 457
  • Index 501
  • Acknowledgments 513
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