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Trade Show Organizers Want Answers From City, State On When And Whether They Can Hold Events At McCormick Place

CHICAGO (CBS) -- McCormick Place typically generates nearly $2 billion a year to Chicago's economy. The CBS 2 Investigators reached out to every single event planned there between now and the end of the year.

CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov on Wednesday got some eye-opening answers from event organizers who just want answers themselves.

They are hoping still to hold their trade shows and conventions at McCormick Place later this fall. But time is running out, and now one group is putting pressure on Gov. JB Pritzker either to give the green light, or call it all off now.

McCormick Place, of course, is known internationally as a top spot for large conventions and trade shows. The second-largest show held there, the Pack Expo Pharmaceutical Show, is scheduled for mid-November. Maybe.

"We are not ready to cancel it yet," said Jim Pittas of Pack Expo. "Our hope would be we could actually hold the event."

It is an event with 72,000 attendees, taking up more than 1 million square feet inside McCormick Place. But Pittas said Pritzker's reopening plan – allowing conventions to open only in Phase 5.

Phase 5 requires a vaccine, a widely available and effective treatment, or an elimination of new cases of COVID-19 over a sustained period of time and is not expected to come in the near future.

Thus, Pritzker's plan has left Pittas and the trade show in limbo. On Wednesday, he sent an email to the offices of Gov. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, saying, "We need your help," and asking for guidance.

"We're not asking actually for him to change the phase he wants to allow it," Pittas said. "We're just asking for a date-certain point where he's saying he won't allow shows to this point."

Pittas' group isn't the only one in limbo.

"Everyone's optimistic," said Dr. David Grenache of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry.

That group already rescheduled its show from July to mid-December. Dr. Grenache said the convention brings about 22,000 people to the city.

"I don't know the exact drop-dead date for cancellation," Grenache said. "Obviously, you know, the sooner you can give attendees notice that the meeting has to be canceled, the better off you are."

The safety-versus-financial struggle is very real – for organizers and for the city

Of the 38 events scheduled at McCormick Place between now and the end of the year, 16 have been canceled so far.

Another will be entirely virtual, meaning no visitors to McCormick Place spending money around Chicago. And one more was moved to next summer.

A representative of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (McPier) said that translates to 949,447 canceled hotel rooms and 973,921 lost visitors. The total economic hit amounts to $1,412,332,655.

Adding to the confusion, the governor dismantled the COVID-19 hospital inside the McCormick Place on May 1 to allow for conventions to resume in July, if able.

Now, the wait-and-see is just tough.

"The clock is ticking. I mean, we've got to get clarity on this," Pittas said.

The Rock and Roll Expo is set to bring 27,000 people to McCormick Place in July, along with a half marathon. But we learned Wednesday that the half marathon will not be able to get a permit due to all summer events being canceled.

That would mean every single event at McCormick Place is now canceled through at least Sept. 30.

Some trade show organizers said they are hoping for answers next week, when Gov. Pritzker is expected to provide an update on reopening Illinois.

Others are looking at canceling or holding virtual events.

For a complete rundown of all the McCormick Place events and their plans, click here.

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