* Good question, but not quite a complete answer…
Total McCormick Place attendance in 2017 was 2.5 million, compared with over 3 million in 2001. Use of the convention center as measured by square footage dropped by half.
So why does the center keep getting more money, and racking up new debt?
Part of the reason is that it’s in a highly competitive industry where other cities are making ill-considered investments in centers of their own. There’s a futile arms race at play.
The bigger reasons for expansion are political. Organized labor and private businesses collaborate to push expansion plans year after year. When they succeed, the mayor of Chicago and other officials then get to stand at ribbon-cuttings and take credit for tourism numbers.
Um, name me another place that brings in 2.5 million people mostly from out of state to Illinois every year for extended periods of time. That’s why those “private businesses,” which are actually hotels, restaurants, etc. aren’t totally opposed to new taxation. The restaurant association, I’m told, is so far neutral on this bill…
Dining out in certain parts of Chicago would get a little more costly under a measure approved Wednesday in the Illinois Senate to help pay for a construction project at McCormick Place.
By a 44-6 vote, the Senate passed a bill to expand the boundaries of the area in which the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the agency that oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier, levies a 1% restaurant tax. The measure now moves to the House.
The tax currently is collected downtown, but the expanded area, which would include parts of the North, Northwest and South sides, was designed to bring in more money from trendy restaurants in areas such as Wrigleyville, Logan Square and Hyde Park, McPier CEO Lori Healey said during a committee hearing Wednesday. The agency expects to bring in an additional $10 million in annual revenue from the expanded boundaries, she said. […]
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that she doesn’t know enough about McPier’s proposal to have a position.
No group filed a witness slip in opposition yesterday.
* But the proposed boundaries of what would be a much larger taxing district have some locals up in arms…
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), owner of Ann Sather restaurants, said he adamantly opposes the dramatic expansion of a restaurant tax that was supposed to be temporary.
“This tax was supposed to go away — not expand,” said Tunney, the new chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee.
“I’m not supportive of it. We already have the highest sales tax in the country, and we’re expanding it? I just feel that the cost of dining out is very expensive. It’s close to 12 percent. Consumers notice. I also think it hurts us on the competitiveness of the convention and tourism business.” […]
Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) joined Tunney in opposing the expansion.
“The whole purpose of the original tax on restaurants for McCormick Place was to capture tourism dollars. We know they’re concentrated in the downtown area,” Hopkins said.
“The further you push that away [from downtown], the more you’re putting that burden on local residents who are going to their neighborhood restaurant. That’s not fair, and I don’t support it.”
That bill flew out of the Senate before any opposition could coalesce. There may not be enough time to stop it in the House. We’ll see. It’s been assigned to the House Executive Committee, where it should blow right through to the floor.
*** UPDATE 1 *** Greg Hinz…
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has come out against a legislative plan to expand McCormick Place by hitting areas as much as 10 miles away from the convention center with a 1 percent tax on restaurants, bars, and take-out food items.
The move may well stall action on the proposal, at least for now, as lawmakers in Springfield race toward a scheduled adjournment of their spring session at midnight tomorrow.
In a statement, the mayor, who insisted at a press conference yesterday that she was just learning details of the plan, based her opposition in part on the fact that the proposed bill has a carve-out for sports stadiums with a capacity of at least 20,000 people—including Wrigley Field, Guaranteed Rate Field and the United Center.
“The mayor is committed to ensuring that Chicago’s convention industry remains vibrant, and supports making investments that will enhance McCormick Place and drive new economic growth for the city of Chicago,” the statement said. “However we are concerned about this proposal in its current form, specifically the exemption favoring large venue owners, whose customer base includes visitors and conventioneers, and the potential unintended consequences for small businesses in Chicago.
*** UPDATE 2 *** A source on the House Executive Committee says the plan is to strip the tax hike from the bill. The General Assembly will punt to the fall veto session.
*** UPDATE 3 *** Same source updates with info that the bill will not be called during tonight’s hearing.