MPEA’s Bid Process for McCormick Venue Management Contract Prompts Letter from SISO

June 29, 2022

The Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority’s bid process for possible new venue management for Chicago’s McCormick Place, which it oversees, has triggered red flags in the trade show industry after it was rumored a management company that also manages and runs its own shows, as well as offers general service contracting, possibly was being considered.

The venue management contract currently is held by ASM Global and was initially due to expire June 30, 2022, but has been extended through January 31, 2023, as MPEA continues to go through the bid process.

David Audrain, CEO of The Society of Independent Show Organizers, recently sent a letter on behalf of its members to MPEA Chair Jeffrey Bethke and MPEA CEO Larita Clark outlining some possible conflicts: “As you consider the current RFP responses, there is legitimate concern in the industry about the possibility of a venue management company being selected for McCormick Place that, in addition to managing, will compete with our members by starting, owning, or managing competing events.”

He added, “It certainly is a reasonable and logical conclusion that if that happens our members will choose not to support a venue that competes with them in any space.”

In addition, the letter stated that any venue management company that required exclusives “or other changes that benefit their business to the detriment of show organizers will not bode well for the future of events at McCormick Place.”  

Cassandra Farrington, SISO Chair, said, “Given the importance of McCormick Place in the ecosystem of the events industry landscape, SISO wanted to submit on behalf of its membership a letter encouraging MPEA to ensure its choice of vendors being non-competitive is a key part of their consideration.”

TSNN reached out to MPEA CEO Clark, as well as David Causton, general manager of McCormick Place, for comment, but neither responded at the time of publication.

MPEA did, however, send a letter in response to SISO’s letter.

MPEA’s letter states: “The scope of the Private Management RFP does not affect the ability of McCormick Place customers to choose general contractors, specialty or exclusive contractors, or service providers. MPEA is not expecting and would resist any changes to this long-standing practice no matter which private management company is selected to operate McCormick Place.”

The letter continued: “Moreover, it is not MPEA’s intent to allow any private manager of McCormick Place to start, own or manage events that will compete with current McCormick Place customers. MPEA values the relationships we have cultivated with current McCormick Place show organizers, we would not jeopardize those relationships by allowing the McCormick Place management company to compete with our current customers.”

McCormick Place

SISO had offered to bring a group of show organizers and other key stakeholders to Chicago to meet with MPEA to explain the importance  of the decision on their businesses. 

In response, MPEA said it had conferred with its counsel who advised that “MPEA’s evaluation of the potential private management companies should be limited to the written proposals received by the Authority, the oral presentations given to the evaluation committee, and the evaluation criteria set forth in the RFP.”

They said they were willing to meet with SISO members after the procurement process was closed “to discuss the needs of your members and your ideas for the continued success of MPEA as an economic generator for Illinois.

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