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Illinois: Staying in the game

Courtesy Toyota Park

If you are in search of hopeful signs as 2010 begins, look to Illinois in the country’s mid-section. In small towns and suburbs around the state, work is under way on projects that will bring more meetings and conventions to bolster local economies.

Convention business is expected to escalate in Peoria, with a new airport terminal set to open late this year. There are also plans to build a new downtown hotel tower and refurbish an adjacent historic hotel, then connect both to the recently expanded Peoria Civic Center. Another planned addition for downtown is a museum complex that will include a high-tech visitors center for Caterpillar, the heavy equipment maker and city’s No. 1 employer.

In the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park and in Effingham, in the state’s southeast sector, convention centers are being expanded to ensure the return of longtime clients whose meetings are growing in size. Both cities are also adding more hotel rooms to serve those primary meeting centers. The Chicago suburbs continue to be popular for family and military reunions, which are drawn by a variety of lodging, easy access and a surprising number of parks and green spaces.

Even old hands at the meeting and event business like Wheaton College are proving to have some new tricks. Wheaton’s been in the meeting business more than a quarter century, yet the 150-year-old college has recently attracted new business by making some upgrades and additions to popular venues like its Edman Chapel.

Meetings and facilities grow in Chicago’s Southland
The Chicago Southland area’s major convention venue is about to get much larger.

Courtesy Iron Oaks

A mostly ceremonial groundbreaking in February — it is winter in Chicago, after all — will mark the start of an expansion at the Tinley Park Convention Center, owned by the Village of Tinley Park and managed by the adjoining Holiday Inn Tinley Park.

The center, which opened a decade ago, will double in size as an expansion on its north side adds exhibition space and another six breakout rooms.

The exhibit hall will grow to 60,000 square feet; there will be a total of 20 breakout spaces.
“Some clients were outgrowing the current space, and they had to decline a lot of business because the convention center was not quite large enough,” said Mary Patchin, director of sales for the Chicago Southland CVB. “The need was there.”

At the same time, the 202-room Holiday Inn will expand, bringing its total guest rooms to 275. The expansion of the center necessitated the hotel’s growth. “To do one [expansion project], they needed to do the other,” said Patchin.

Groups that exceed the Holiday Inn’s capacity, such as larger associations and the sports groups that hold competitions at the center, can book rooms at six limited-service hotels adjacent to the Tinley center and two more nearby. Parking at the center is free.

For smaller groups, the Orland Park Civic Center, in the Village of Orland Park, has a 4,300-square-foot exhibition hall and two meeting rooms, of 1,300 and 1,400 square feet. Seven small colleges and universities in the area also offer meeting facilities.

Courtesy Iron Oaks

Although there aren’t many other new hotel developments in the 62 communities in south and southwest Chicagoland covered by the Chicago Southland bureau, a number of existing properties have recently renovated, including the Hilton in Oaklawn, the Doubletree Chicago/Alsip, and the Comfort Inn and Conference Center in Orland Park, according to Patchin.

Among Patchin’s suggestions for off-site events are two that appeal to the active and athletic. For almost 20 years, the Adventure Center at Irons Oaks Environmental Learning Center has offered team building on its teams challenge course and its high ropes course. Patchin can personally vouch for the center’s programs: “As a bureau staff, we go out there every other year for team building,” she said. “It’s a wonderful facility; we sell it constantly.”

The 40-acre nature preserve also has several small meeting rooms.

For an evening of armchair activity, groups can book an event suite at Toyota Park and watch a Chicago Fire soccer game in the 20,000-seat stadium, which opened four years ago.

The suites accommodate 16 to 50 and include private catering, a suite attendant, a wet bar and indoor and outdoor seating.

(866) 895-8233

Fairgrounds up its appeal by adding events center
ST. CHARLES, Ill. — The Kane County Fairgrounds is exploring the many ways its Prairie Events Center, opened two years ago, can be used by clients, old and new.The center is about 45,000 square feet in total and twice as large as the fairground’s next largest building. Two wings, each 15,600 square feet, are joined by a central space that includes a kitchen, an atrium and restrooms. There is a conference room on the building’s second level; the fairgrounds complex, 136 acres in total, has as much as 40 acres of parking.

The events center is among a number of improvements recently made at the fairgrounds, where most buildings were constructed 40 to 50 years ago. Its five-acre midway area, now paved and landscaped, “looks like a park,” according to the fairgrounds’ Chris Unger.

Among the existing events now using the center is a dog show, which was previously held outdoors, beneath tents. Unger expects the center to attract regional trade shows, craft shows and collectors groups. It is also suitable for dinners and meetings.

(630) 584-6926