How the cancellation of trade shows, major events are impacting suburban convention centers

  • A mandate by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to suspend gatherings of more than 1,000 people amid coronavirus concerns has a direct impact on suburban venues such as the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, where upcoming trade shows and events are being rescheduled.

    A mandate by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to suspend gatherings of more than 1,000 people amid coronavirus concerns has a direct impact on suburban venues such as the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, where upcoming trade shows and events are being rescheduled. Courtesy Illinois Office of Tourism

 
 
Updated 3/13/2020 4:47 PM

Trade shows, conventions and other major events throughout the suburbs are being canceled or postponed in response to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's directive to suspend gatherings of more than 1,000 people.

The mandate, issued Thursday amid a rising number of coronavirus cases in Illinois, has a direct hit on the employees and operations of local venues such as the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.

 

Events scheduled through April -- including the Chicago Sports Spectacular planned for this weekend -- have been removed from the convention center's calendar, Executive Director Chris Stephens said. And though no employee cuts have been made so far, he said, those who work on an as-needed basis will be inevitably impacted.

In hopes of softening the economic blow, venue leaders are working with show organizers, and the local business community, to reschedule the events for after May 1. That means not only will the convention center be busier in the summer and fall, but so will the nearby restaurants and hotels, Stephens said.

"It'll require teamwork on everyone's behalf to make sure that all happens," he said. "We don't want to lose any events."

Only one trade show so far has canceled with no plans to reschedule, he added.

Convention center leaders have communicated Pritzker's recommendations to the organizers of smaller-scale events and are leaving it up to them on whether to move forward. If they want to reschedule, Stephens said, "we're happy to do so."

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McCormick Place in downtown Chicago was the first venue in the area to report the cancellation of some international trade shows because of travel restrictions and worldwide fear of the outbreak. Other convention organizers have since followed suit.

Large events scheduled for the next several weeks at the Schaumburg Convention Center have announced that they will no longer be held, including the AdeptiCon war-gaming convention planned for March 25-29 and this weekend's Greater Chicago Boat Show.

A notice on the boat show's website indicates organizers had no intention of scrapping the event, saying they were even "looking for loopholes" in Pritzker's mandate but were unsuccessful.

"We are being forced by the government to shut down," the website says. "So I want to be very clear in that I have not canceled this event, the state of Illinois has."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

An Audio Expo North America, or AXPONA, convention planned for mid-April has been pushed back to Aug. 7-9 -- a time slot offered by the Schaumburg Convention Center, the event manager said in a statement.

"We rescheduled out of an abundance of caution during this unpredictable time to provide the best opportunity for a well attended event and to ensure the best AXPONA experience for all show goers in 2020," the statement said.

The Schaumburg Convention Center's director of sales and marketing did not return requests for comment.

In Rosemont, Stephens said Mayor Brad Stephens, his uncle, gave the convention center direction to power through the lull without spending unnecessarily. Rescheduled event dates will be posted on the calendar, he said, and venue leaders will continue following health and safety guidelines.

The convention center will be in good shape for the next couple of months, Chris Stephens said. But if Pritzker's order gets extended beyond May 1, "then we're looking at a whole different story."

"I hope this passes fast for everyone's sake," he said.

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