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

By Heywood T. Sanders | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Chicago: Bolstering the Business District

When Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center opened in November 1960 as the “world’s greatest meeting place,” it represented a triumph over some 50 years of debate, conflict, and public failure. Chicago business and civic leaders had begun to promote a major new auditorium or convention hall in the 1910s, as other cities began to build their own impressive new facilities. In the 1920s, Col. Robert McCormick’s Chicago Tribune had embraced the quest, with the regular editorial call to “Build Chicago the best convention hall in America.”1

With a location on a prominent lakefront site some three miles from the heart of the downtown “Loop,” the Tribune editorial writers could gush that the massive new hall “was a tribute to the foresight and drive of Col. Robert McCormick, late editor and publisher of The Chicago Tribune … [and] his campaign for an exposition center that would give to the city the facilities for perpetual maintenance of the title of convention city of the world.”2

Yet despite the enthusiasm of the Tribune and a host of civic leaders, the convention hall effort met repeated failure. Part of this failure reflected the unwillingness of city voters to pay for an impressive new hall, and a lawsuit that derailed one positive vote. But the effort to build a major convention hall was also stymied by the division and conflict within the city’s business community. Different and distinct geographic interests sought the new venue on their turf, for their benefit. Planner Daniel Burnham, in his 1909 Plan of Chicago, emphasized the potential of a major public improvement to reshape development prospects: “To the West Side especially the development of a civic center along the lines indicated is a matter of prime importance, for it will give to that portion of the city the needed impetus towards higher standards than now prevail.”3

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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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