McCormick Place has expanded considerably since NPE '94, which should exercise the most dedicated mall walker.
The South Building, completed at the end of 1996 at a cost of $675 million, adds 840,000 square feet of new exhibition space to Chicago's landmark by Lake Michigan.
The expansion provides attendees of the June 16-20 NPE 1997 with a bit of a logistical challenge. McCormick's North, South and East buildings, totaling 2.2 million square feet, and connected by a pedestrian concourse, will house this year's 1,500 exhibitors and estimated 75,000 visitors. Don't expect to see everything in one, two, or even three days.
Once you get to McCormick Place, the signage is adequate to keep you moving in the right direction. It just takes a while to go from the East building to the North building to the South building. Check the floor diagram in your registration packet and orient yourself upon arrival at each building.
There are three registration areas. The first is in the Grand Concourse lobby. The Grand Concourse serves as the unified entrance to McCormick Place and is a link between the East, North and South buildings. For preregistration only, head to McCormick Place South, Level 1. The third registration site is on Level 2 in McCormick Place East.
Getting to the complex at 2301 Lake Shore Drive is another matter. Driving around Chicago isn't recommended; it is difficult, and rush hour, which starts about 3 p.m., can be brutal.
Take a metered taxi, a shuttle bus or better yet, Metra. Passes are available in the South Building's Level 3 Grand Concourse. A one-way ticket can be purchased for $1.75 or a packet of 10 for $14.90. You need a pass before entering the McCormick station, which can be accessed via the concourse.
The Metra electric train runs north and south from two Chicago stations — Randolph Street and Van Buren Street — to the McCormick Place stop. It's only a seven-minute trip, and if your hotel is not within walking distance to one of the downtown stations, hail a cab at either station.
The Randolph Street Station is located below ground on Michigan Avenue between South Water Street and Randolph Street.
The Van Buren Street Station also is located below ground, between Jackson and Van Buren streets.
If you must drive, remember that parking is limited. Three lots serve the North Building and none allow in-and-out privileges. The 31st Street lot is the most convenient and holds 2,250 cars. To enter it, exit Lake Shore Drive at 31st Street and follow the signs.
The M.L. King lot holds 1,000 cars and is located a few blocks west of McCormick Place North. To get there, exit I-55 Stevenson North at Martin Luther King Drive. Turn left at the stoplight and follow the signs to the lot entrance on Prairie Avenue. If you are driving from downtown, take Michigan Avenue south to 22nd Street/Cermak and turn left. Travel east on Cermak and follow the signs to the Prairie Avenue entrance.
A third option is the Soldier Field South lot, which holds 2,500 cars and is used as an overflow for the first two lots. To enter from northbound Lake Shore Drive, turn left at the McFetridge Drive stoplight, just north of Soldier Field, and head toward southbound Lake Shore Drive. Stay in the left lane and follow the signs.
A note about traffic: Chicago's Metro Traffic Control says there are two interchange ramps in the city that always have delays.The I-88, I-294 and I-290 interchange, known as the ``88 Merge,'' generally has at least a 10- to 15-minute delay. Also, the ramp from northbound I-90/94 (the Dan Ryan Expressway) to I-290 always has at least a 10-minute delay.
Show organizers warn that there is construction on Michigan Avenue running into downtown. In many places traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction, so expect delays and Chicago Transit Authority bus route detours to State Street.