Convention Business Stalls Untill Virus Threat Is Past
The very advantages that make Rosemont an ideal location for convention business -- being next to O’Hare International Airport and at a major crossroads of tollways and expressways -- leave it temporarily vulnerable in the wake of the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic.
As one executive order after another from the state of Illinois and federal authorities arrive -- seeking to limit infections from spreading, however unintentionally -- no one can have a convention if more than 10 people can be in a room at the same time.
For the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, and a village filled with hotels, it has been a challenge.
“It’s a tough time,” Convention Center Executive Director Christopher Stephens told the Journal this week.
The center has tried to stay on top of the situation, training staff, providing sanitizer and other protections for guests, but the rules keep changing.
There were some immediate impacts when Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered all restaurants and bars to close indoor dining, effective March 16. While carry-outs and deliveries were still allowed, it limits access to the village’s signature restaurants.
There were immediate consequences for several shows at the convention center. Although there are hopes that by May the restrictions may relax, Stephens said the Anime Central convention and the Chicago Sports Spectacular memorabilia show are not going to happen as originally planned this year.
He said the Convention Center has had a lot of shows booked this year.
Local hotels are also affected when the conventions are canceled. Stephens said the Hyatt Regency and the Embassy Suites may close for a while, rather than operate with a handful of occupied rooms.
Stephens said the Convention Center staff is doing “an awesome job” continuing to work with management for the shows booked for later in the year, to see if they can still get things rescheduled.
The expanding number of COVID-19 cases caused some states to postpone their elections.
Rosemont was supposed to provide hotel rooms for some of the out-of-state delegations for this summer’s Democratic National Convention just over the border in Wisconsin.
A large percentage of Rosemont residents work someplace in jobs related to the convention business, in hotels or restaurants or parking lots, public safety and auxiliary, shops or cleaning services.
By ANNE LUNDE
Journal & Topics Reporter