Pandemic An Unprecedented Challenge For Convention Centers


Eric Peterson | Daily Herald

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big enough impact on businesses whose customers are nearby, but convention centers like those in Rosemont and Schaumburg have lost even larger numbers of visitors for themselves and their commercial neighbors.

"Some of our clients are international," said Christopher Stephens, executive director of Rosemont's Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. "That's a tough one."

The focus for now is working with show organizers to either cancel or reschedule, with the aim of deferring events and revenue as much as possible rather than losing them entirely.

The way clients are treated in a situation like this will have a lot to do with their attitude toward working with the venue again, Stephens said.

"This is something we obviously never saw before and all of it is out of our control." he added.

Assistant Executive Director Grant Bailey said the Rosemont convention center has rescheduled about 10 consumer/trade shows to the fall, another eight to next year, and has lost only one or two completely.

It also has deferred about 35 to 40 corporate events, meetings, banquets and proms at its conference center and lost one so far.

Some shows originally scheduled for June -- such as Supernatural 2020, Vampire Diaries 2020 and COS & FX 2020 from June 4 to 7 -- are still listed on the Rosemont website. But the earlier they are, the more logistically difficult they may be to put on, Stephens said.

Still, there has to be some working measure of when life and business will return to normal, said Dieter Heigl, general manager of the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center.

"We have to go with what we know, and what we know is that the stay-at-home order ends on May 30," he said.

So far, the Schaumburg Convention Center has been shut down for 31 scheduled events, about half of which have been rescheduled for later in the year or early next year.

"We went from a very busy, active convention center to zero," Heigl said. "It certainly is the most challenging environment I've encountered in my career."

But other major challenges to the convention center industry like 9/11 and the Great Recession were overcome in time, he added.

"I'm still optimistic that this too shall pass, even though now it's very grim," Heigl said.

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