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Cvent’s Chicago meeting planning guide is an extensive city guide for Chicago meeting planners. Though Chicago goes by "The Windy City," "Second City," and even "Chi-Town," it has also been referred to as "The City that Works"—with good reason. The city is home to over 300,000 businesses, and more people travel to Chicago for overnight business than any other U.S. destination. Its accessibility certainly plays a role in its popularity, as about 46 million people are within one day's drive of Chicago. These staggering numbers have a strong impact on the Chicago event-planning world.
Guests from farther destinations—virtually anywhere around the globe—can easily reach the city thanks to its two airports, O'Hare International and Midway International. Voted Best Airport in North America for nine years by Business Traveler magazine, O'Hare welcomes direct nonstop flights from 59 international and 150 domestic business hubs on over 50 different airlines.
When planning meetings in Chicago, accessibility is the name of the game within the city as well. Though spanning over 200 square miles, the city has plenty of affordable and efficient options for traversing from one Chicago meeting hotel or attraction to the next. Guests can enjoy reduced shared taxi fares among McCormick Place, both airports, and downtown on one of the largest taxi fleets in the nation. Visitors can also hop on the Chicago Transit Authority's rapid transit "L" system or buses to reach virtually any point of interest in the urban area. Plus, convention goers can enjoy faster travel—at lower costs to planners—thanks to the dedicated 2.5-mile busway that runs directly from downtown hotels to McCormick Place. Of course when you're talking about large event planning in any city, specifically Chicago event planning, convention centers come to mind.
Once at the convention center, guests continue to be impressed. North America's premier convention facility, McCormick Place offers 2.6 million square feet of exhibit halls, 173 meeting rooms, four ballrooms, and a 4,249-seat theater and three 300-seat theaters. With an on-site business center, award-winning catering, massage stations, and Internet and networking services, the center is more than equipped to make any event a success. Plus, the West building, the center's most recent addition, is LEED certified, meaning that events at McCormick Place can be a winner for attendees and the environment as well.
In fact, the entire city is one of the most environmentally friendly in the nation, thanks to a Chief Environmental Officer in the mayor's cabinet and a comprehensive Environmental Action Agenda. Among Chicago's environmental initiatives are the creation of 2.5 million square feet of rooftop gardens; a goal to make 20 percent of the electricity used be from renewable sources in five years; and hosting the world's only carbon emissions trading floor, the Chicago Climate Exchange. Chicago's efforts was recently named the most sustainable large community in America by Siemens and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Not only is it easy to go green in Chicago, it's easy to add a little green to your events. Thanks to the city's acres of municipal parkland, planners can choose from a wealth of picturesque outdoor venues. The 23 garden displays at the Chicago Botanic Garden are a stunning backdrop for receptions, while the iconic Buckingham Fountain at Grant Park is sure to impress guests with its grand Beaux Arts design. Take a walk on the wild side by hosting an event the Kovler Lion House, Helen Branch Primate House, or one of several other spaces at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Indoor Chicago event venues are just as plentiful. Inspire event attendees with an affair held amongst pieces by Picasso, Matisse, and more at the Art Institute of Chicago. The captivating Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum can host anywhere from 50 to 1,000 guests, and the Museum of Science and Industry is equally suited to upscale affairs and presentations.
A major locus for business, Chicago has an economy that centers heavily on finance. It is the headquarters of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and is home to three major futures exchanges. Insurance, manufacturing, printing, and publishing also play a key role in the metropolitan area's economy. The University of Chicago, DePaul University, University of Illinois Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, and Northwestern University are among the many higher education institutes in the city.
View the other pages in the Chicago Destination Guide to learn more information about event and meeting planning in Chicago.
Though Chicago became the area's first trading post in the 1770s, it was not until the late 19th century that the city took its first steps to becoming a Midwest powerhouse. In 1848, the city's first railway, Galena and Chicago Union Railroad, opened, as did the Illinois and Michigan Canal. Chicago's reputation as a transportation hub took off (the city would later become the railroad industry's capital), as did its economy and population. In just 40 years, the population skyrocketed from about 30,000 people to over one million people. At the end of the 19th century it was the fifth-largest city in the world.
Today, the Chicago metropolitan area's over 9.7 million residents represent over half the population of Illinois. A diverse cultural mosaic, the city's ethnicities include African American, Irish, Italian, Mexican, German, Greek—the list goes on and on. The city has the largest ethnically Polish population outside of Warsaw, Poland, and the third-largest South Asian American population in the United States. Take advantage of Chicago's rich blend of people by sampling authentic Italian specialties at The Rosebud or Tuscany Taylor restaurants in Little Italy. View colorful street murals and stop by the National Museum of Mexican Art at Pilsen and Little Village, one of the nation's largest Mexican communities.
Despite its varied demography, the city embraces the past and present that has made all its residents unite as Chicagoans. At the Chicago History Museum, visitors can explore millions of historical artifacts from the city's rich heritage. The Willis Tower Skydeck, the tallest building in North America, not only looks into city history with on-site exhibits but also gives guests a glimpse from 1,353 feet above ground of the entire Chicago landscape as it is today. Navy Pier, the number 1 tourist destination in the Midwest, is a Chicago icon as well. Here, guests can ride the Ferris wheel at Pier Park, catch a show at the IMAX Theatre, or simply spend a day strolling among the shops and vendor stalls.
Certainly another trademark of the city is its delicious cuisine; the city is in fact known for a number of specialties. Indulge in a cheesy slice of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza from Lou Malnati's or Gino's East, or savor the thinly sliced, slow-roasted beef and sweet peppers of a Chicago Italian beef sandwich. Whether enjoyed at Wrigley Field during a Cubs game or on the streets of the bustling city, a Chicago-style hot dog, complete with pickle relish and mustard—never ketchup—is sure to be a home run.
As day turns into night, it's easy to transition from snack food into a filling meal at one of Chicago's fine-dining and nightlife establishments. With a number of eateries owned by celebrity chefs and a wealth of historic, long-running operations, the city's restaurants are among the world's best. Enjoy cooked-to-perfection USDA prime steaks at Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse or decadent French cuisine at Everest, renowned Chef Jean Joho's award-winning eatery.
After dinner, guests can enjoy Chicago's entertainment scene, which ranges from orchestra performances to gut-busting comedy shows. Guests can easily catch a Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance at Symphony Center, or get lost in the sounds of the blues at Kingston Mines, Chicago's oldest blues club. Guests can hit the dance floor at Sound-Bar.
Known as the birthplace of improv, Chicago's famed The Second City is a must-stop for visitors looking for late-night entertainment. Here, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, and a host of other comedians found their footing. Catch the next big thing at its various nightly shows. Though guests may leave the performances in tears, the only real sadness they'll feel is when they have to say a final goodbye to this great city.
All average costs based on U.S. Government Per Diem rates as published by the U.S. General Services Administration.
Chicago, like much of the Midwest, has a climate with a wide range of weather conditions. The city experiences four distinct seasons. In July, the warmest month, high temperatures average 84°F (29 °C) and low temperatures 63°F (17 °C). In January, the coldest month, high temperatures average 29°F (-2 °C) with low temperatures averaging 13°F (-10 °C).
The ideal time to visit the Windy City is summer or fall. The summer months offer an endless selection of special events and outdoor activities, as well as the biggest crowds and hot, muggy weather. However, autumn days are generally sunny and the crowds are smaller at major tourist attractions.
Value season: If you're looking for the cheapest hotel rates and don't mind being indoors, travel to Chicago between December and March. Another added bonus: you won't have to wait to get into museums and other city attractions.
The Odeum Expo Center
McCormick Place an SMG Managed Facility
With nearly three million visitors each year, McCormick Place is North America's premier convention facility one of the most alluring Chicago meeting facilities. Named after Colonel Robert R. McCormick, the center first opened in 1960 at 320,000 square feet. Over the years, the center has been expanded and upgraded multiple times. In 2007, McCormick Place added the West Building, which boasts 460,000 square feet of exhibit space, 250,000 square feet of meeting space and one of the world's largest ballrooms.
Today, McCormick Place is the largest convention center in the United States and encompasses four buildings in addition to the West Building: North Building, South Building, and Lakeside Center. Overall, the center covers an astounding 2.6 million square feet of exhibit halls. It boasts 173 meeting rooms offering 600,000 square feet of space; four ballrooms, two of which are the largest in the city; the 4,249-seat Arie Crown Theater; three additional 300-seat theaters; and assembly seating for 18,000 people.
Its amenities are equally impressive. The on-site business center offers copying, printing and document finishing services, computer rentals, shipping options and more. Internet and networking services are available, as is Wi-Fi in facility restaurants. Chicago Restaurant Partners offers award-winning catering programs for groups of all kinds.
Hungry attendees can also stop by one of several food outlets, which range from fast food to full service. Guests needing a break from a long day of meetings can take advantage of the Relaxation Stations, which offer upper-body massage services. Additional amenities include ATM machines, complimentary coat checks, shoe shine services and a 24-hour convenience center.
McCormick Place is connected to 1,259 luxurious rooms at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place. Only minutes from downtown, the center also manages two parking lots, offering space for a total of 5,000 vehicles; it can also be reached by public transportation. To travel within the center itself, sky bridges and public walkways serve as links among
facilities. The Grand Concourse runs between the South Building and North and Lakeside buildings, and is home to a number of restaurants and retail shops.
In addition to expansive facilities and first-class amenities, McCormick Place offers planners a chance to make their events sustainable. Committed to doing its part to protect the environment, the center has undertaken many green initiatives including the use of compact florescent bulbs, biodegradable flatware and serving ware in the food courts, and 100 percent recycled paper products in facility restrooms. The center's West Building also attained LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the largest new construction facility in the nation to do so.
Recognized as one of the top convention centers in the business, McCormick Place regularly takes home awards. In 2010, the center won MeetingsNet 2010 Association Meetings Inner Circle Award, and in 2009, the Trade Show Exhibitors Association award for Favorite Convention Center.
Located in the heart of Chicago's business community, the Gleacher Center is an ideal Chicago meeting facility situated blocks away from Magnificent Mile shopping, restaurants and hotels and easily accessible by public transportation. Amphitheaters, executive meeting rooms, reception and dining lounges, and flexible breakout rooms are among the spaces available. The fifth-floor Midway Club combines comfort and elegance with its well-appointed rooms, lounge and billiard room, and dining area.
Catering at the Gleacher Center is provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering, which can craft menus for breakfasts, snack breaks, lunch buffets, seated dinners and more. State-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, full videoconferencing and a wide range of business services are also available.
The Conference Center One North Wacker
From small corporate functions to large receptions, the Conference Center at UBS Tower's scalable space is suited to accommodate events of all kinds. The center has 6,251 square feet of meeting space spread among six separate meeting rooms. Two separate rooms can be combined into the 3,329-square-foot Michigan Ballroom, which can host receptions of up to 325 guests.
Each room in the facility is equipped with high-speed Internet LAN connections, and the center offers trained professionals for audio-visual support. It also has four exclusive caterers and an on-site, fully-equipped copy center.
Summit Chicago (A Women's Business Enterprise - WBE)
Chicago's only IACC-approved conference center, the Summit Executive Center is located in the heart of downtown Chicago on the northeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Lake Street. The facility's 20 meeting rooms encompass 34,000 square feet of flexible space and are equipped with ergonomic chairs, custom-designed tables and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment. The Summit Executive Centre also offers catering services and an on-site business center.
Navy Pier Chicago an SMG Managed Facility
Boasting "Latino flavors with the spice of life," Carnivale celebrates Latin culture and community. Its authentic cuisine blends the dishes of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Argentina, El Salvador and Mexico. Bright colors, salsa music and vibrant decor impart the feeling of being at a Latin house party.
Located in a historic downtown Chicago loft space, Catalyst Ranch's creative environment is guaranteed to impress and inspire. Its five large meeting rooms are filled with vintage furniture, ethnic artwork, toys, delicious food, as well as business amenities such as audio-visual equipment, wireless Internet and meeting supplies.
Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
The 1,198-room Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile offers a stunningly stylish, energetic and contemporary vibe. Here, business and entertainment intersect in a multidimensional setting that inspires guests to engage, relax, retreat, work and play.
A premier destination for Chicago-based meetings, the hotel’s recently updated 54 meeting rooms encompass 66,400 total square feet of meeting space. The largest room is the 19,193-square-foot grand ballroom, capable of accommodating 2,200 guests.
The United Center in Chicago, the largest arena in the country, has hosted over 20 million guests since its opening in 1994. In addition to serving as the home of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chicago Bulls, it hosts over 200 events per year, including well-known headliners such as Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney.
A privately-owned multi-use facility, the United Center's commitment to quality and service makes it one of the top venues in the world. A range of banquet rooms, meeting rooms and even the arena floor can be booked for events of all types and sizes.
Chicago Union Station
Designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham and completed in 1925, the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station is considered one of the greatest indoor meeting facilities in Chicago and in the entire United States. The Beaux Arts-style room, which features 18 Corinthian columns, terra cotta walls, a pink Tennessee marble floor, and a barrel-vaulted ceiling, has been the location for films including The Untouchables and My Best Friend's Wedding.
Hard Rock Cafe - Chicago
Located in the heart of the River North neighborhood, the Hard Rock Cafe Chicago has continued to live up to its motto of "Love All, Serve All" for over 20 years. Whether enjoying a meal of hickory-smoked pulled pork or sipping drinks such as the Rockarita, the Hard Rock Cafe has something to suit every taste.
The Hilton Chicago hotel has achieved an unprecedented fusion of historic luxury and contemporary amenities. Stepping into its magnificent lobby, guests are immediately transported back to the early 20th century, when great hotels were built with marble and granite, not glass and steel. The hotel's location on Michigan Avenue makes virtually everything to see and do in Chicago is only a short walk or cab ride away.
Hyatt Regency Chicago
Located just off the Magnificent Mile, the Four Diamond Hyatt Regency Chicago luxury hotel lets guests take advantage of all the city has to offer, while indulging in the kind of pampered service expected from Hyatt. Perfect for hosting anything from a simple one-day meeting or an elaborate weeklong conference, the hotel's 228,000 square feet of creative, flexible function space and professional staff can meet any need.
Palmer House a Hilton Hotel
Ideally located in the heart of the Chicago Loop, the Palmer House Hilton is a unique Chicago hotel offering modern conveniences combined with over one hundred years of elegance. The hotel's Executive Level is virtually a "hotel within a hotel" with a long list of special amenities suited for business groups. This self-contained conference floor includes 38 function rooms that can satisfy any business need.
Paramount Room serves modern food and drink from its location in a 100-year-old former speakeasy in River West. With its contemporary design, noted by exposed brick, lofted ceilings and cozy booths, Paramount Room sets the tone for a relaxing night to kick back with drinks from the full bar and selections from the award-winning menu.
Sheraton Grand Chicago
Located on the banks of the Chicago River, the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers is the premier convention and business hotel in the Midwest. Designed to create a successful meeting environment, the property boasts a 40,000-square-foot ballroom, the largest hotel ballroom in the Midwest, as well as meeting rooms equipped with the latest in audio-visual technology, making it one of the most sought after Chicago meeting facilities. All guest rooms offer views of the river, Lake Michigan or the city skyline, and special Club rooms have exclusive benefits and amenities.
The Mid-America Club
The Mid-America Club is the only club in Chicago that provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the city's distinctive skyline. Whether for a business seminar or an elaborate special event, The Mid-America Club can assist planners with every detail.
The Palm - Chicago
Located in the posh Swissotel, The Palm Chicago opened its doors in 1980 to much success. Known for its great steaks and seafood and authentic Italian dishes, The Palm has long been a favorite to Chicagoans, including members of the Chicago Bulls and Bears and several local politicos.
Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
Approximate taxi fare: $42 USD
Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)
Approximate taxi fare: $53 USD
The 2nd-busiest airport in the U.S., O'Hare International is the largest hub for United Airlines and the 2nd largest hub for American Airlines. As the primary airport for the Chicago area, O’Hare International sees more than 66 million passengers a year, making it the fourth busiest airport in the world.
The Chicago Airport System's Art and Exhibits Program brings color and spirit to the airport decor. Spread among its two airports, the system's collection features permanent works in the Edward "Butch" O'Hare Museum and The Battle of Midway Exhibit. Other exhibit pieces at O'Hare have included a Brachiosaurus skeleton from the Field Museum and 744-foot-long kinetic neon sculpture lining the ceiling of the underground walkway between Concourses B and C.
Travelers at O'Hare can enjoy a number of dining and shopping options, many of which offer a chance to enjoy some Chicago treats upon arrival or as a last stop before departure. Chicago Style Hot Dogs, Gold Coast Dogs and Pizzeria Uno join other fast food and full-service eateries. Chicago News and Gifts provides souvenirs alongside other shops such as Mont Blanc, Sunglass Hut and Brookstone. Wi-Fi capability and a number of power stations where guests can recharge electronic devices for free are available.
Hourly, daily and economy parking is available at O'Hare International. A special lot for international parking is also available.
Airline carriers serving O'Hare International Airport
Chicago is one of largest passenger rail hubs in the United States. Traveling in and out of downtown Union Station, travelers can reach major cities all across the continental United States.
Chicago Union Station serves numerous Amtrak routes: California Zephyr (Chicago to Emeryville, California); Capitol Limited (Chicago to Washington, DC); Cardinal/Hoosier State (New York City to Chicago); City of New Orleans (Chicago to New Orleans); Empire Builder (Chicago to Portland/Seattle); Hiawatha (Chicago to Milwaukee); Illinois Service (Chicago to Quincy, Missouri, St. Louis, and Carbondale, Illinois); Lake Shore Limited (New York City and Boston to Chicago); Michigan Services (Chicago to Grand Rapids, Pontiac and Detroit); Missouri Routes (Chicago to Kansas City); Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles); and Texas Eagle (Chicago to San Antonio).
Chicago Union Station is open daily from 5:30 AM to midnight.
The Regional Transit Authority oversees the three public transportation operators in Chicago and northeastern Illinois: the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra commuter rail and Pace bus.
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)
The CTA operates a bus system and a rapid transit system, known as the "L," in Chicago. The L Train runs on eight routes, designated as Yellow, Red, Brown, Blue, Green, Pink, Purple and Orange. The Blue line has a stop at the O'Hare International Airport, while the Orange line stops at Midway International. Chicago is one of few cities with 24-hour transport service, as the Red and Blue lines both run all day.
The CTA buses run throughout urban areas at over 12,000 stops. Regular and express routes are available, and designated "Owl" buses provide service from midnight to 5 AM.
The Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus offer reduced fares for travelers. Full fare with either card is $1.75 and 25 cents for transfers, which allow for two additional rides within two hours after the first boarding. Transit Card fare is $1.75 on buses, $2 at rail stations and 25 cents for transfers. Cash fares are $2 per ride, exact fare only.
Visitors' passes are available, offering unlimited rides when activated at first use. Two-day passes are $9, three-day passes are $12 and five-day passes are $18.
Metra runs commuter rail lines in Chicago and its suburbs. Its over 200 stations are spread through six counties: Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will. The trains travel as far north as Kenosha, Wisconsin, and as far east as South Bend, Indiana.
Metra fares are calculated based on distance traveled within its designated zone system. Tickets can be purchased at Metra station ticket booths.
The Pace bus systems offers bus and paratransit service to over 200 suburbs surrounding Chicago, with some stops in the city as well.
Regular full fare for Pace is $1.50, but fares vary based on type of route; transfers are 25 cents. Children under 7 ride free. Pace buses also accept CTA farecards.
A great, affordable way to see the city, Chicago's Free Trolleys run to popular attractions and shopping districts. Guest can reach the Museum Campus, Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier and more on the trolleys; all the routes also connect to a CTA or Metra station.
Trolleys pick up and drop off only at designated stops. Trolleys run about every 20 minutes at varying schedules based on day and season.
When the temperatures drop in the Windy City, guests can still enjoy easy, fast and, most importantly, warm transportation. The extensive downtown underground Pedway spans 40 blocks of the central business district, connecting businesses, retail stores, hotels and other public transportation stations.
Truly an underground city, the Pedway has numerous shops, restaurants and public art displays. It is open 24 hours a day, though access to buildings within the system is generally based on standard business hours.
Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, Hertz and National operate at O'Hare International. Agency counters are located at the lower level near the baggage claim of each terminal. All these companies as well as Thrifty serve Midway Airport. Counters are located on the lower level of the terminal.
Taxis are plentiful on the streets of Chicago; in fact, the city has the 2nd largest fleet in the nation with 6,900 vehicles. Fares start at $2.25 for the first 1/9-mile. Each additional 1/9-mile is 20 cents. The first additional passenger is $1. Each additional passenger after the first is 50 cents.
Taxi fare from O'Hare International Airport to downtown averages $35 to $40. Taxi fare from Midway to downtown is about $25 to $28.
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