Even though SPI is moving NPE to Orlando, readers seem to be interested in the problems at the old venue, Chicago's McCormick Place. So here's a post to satisfy your craving for more information. First, check out James Ylisela Jr.'s investigative feature from our sister publication Crain's Chicago Business, ("Polticial connections important in McCormick management"), posted on our site today. As Crain's Greg Hinz notes in his blog today, "The piece lays out in truly excruciating detail how the agency in charge of running McCormick Place -- the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority -- has become a political dumping ground, with whole precincts full of connected brothers-in-law and the like on the payroll, thereby ratcheting up costs and making Chicago less competitive. Next, check out Hinz's blog for this thoughts on how Chicago can fix its "crumbling convention business." For starters, Hinz writes, Mayor Daley and Gov. Pat Quinn need to "end their petty bickering and put someone in charge" of Chicago's convention and tourism business.
Right now, McPier is a hydra-headed monster jointly run by the mayor and the governor. Since neither has ultimate responsibility, each has grabbed the goodies rather than taking care of business, with the mayoral-controlled McPier board left free to squabble with the gubernatorial- selected McPier CEO. Even worse, with no one in charge, no one has the incentive to sit on other powers, like Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Insiders say last year he blocked a needed restructuring of McPier's debt because then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich fired one of Mr. Madigan's guys at McPier. (Mr. Madigan denies the story, but I strongly suspect there's some truth to the tale.) Meanwhile, an entirely different agency, the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, is in charge of selling the convention space that McPier runs. Crazy. Put it all together in one agency, and make one official the unquestioned boss -- an official who can be fired if things go south. Perhaps the whole unit could be privatized, because I'm not sure I trust City Hall to run the entire show.Those are some radical ideas, for sure. For now, expect to see a renewed effort to restructure McCormick's debt and cut costs. And perhaps now that there's a spotlight on the patronage situation, that will be addressed too.