Chicago Tribune: After Rejecting Lakeside Center Casino Proposal, McCormick Place Seeks to Reimagine Lakeside Center

“Six months after rejecting a plan to turn Lakeside Center into the Chicago casino, McCormick Place is looking to redevelop all or part of the aging convention facility into a new tourist attraction.
“The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns McCormick Place, issued a request for information last week, inviting developers to submit ideas for ‘reimagining’ the 51-year-old steel-and-glass exhibition hall, an underutilized but architecturally significant building that needs more than $400 million in deferred maintenance.
“The redevelopment partner would operate the project to ‘enhance the experience’ of conventioneers and visitors, drive economic impact and address the needed renovations — without reducing existing convention space, according to MPEA’s request.
“The $1.3 billion Rivers Chicago McCormick bid to redevelop Lakeside Center as the Chicago casino was touted by developers as an opportunity to repurpose and renovate the building, and cover the deferred maintenance. But the proposal was pulled from consideration in March after McCormick Place expressed concern that it would lose hundreds of scheduled events over the next decade that could not be accommodated without a replacement facility.
“Scott Goodman, founding principal of Chicago-based Farpoint Development, a partner in the Rivers Chicago McCormick casino proposal, believes McCormick Place missed an opportunity at Lakeside Center.
“‘We obviously felt that the casino was a great catalyst to conduct the necessary renovations and improvements and make it into a comprehensive entertainment complex,’ Goodman said. ‘The city decided otherwise for the casino, but we still believe this is an iconic building for the city, and deserves to be fully utilized and repurposed.’
“McCormick Place is hoping to find an alternative redevelopment plan that would revitalize Lakeside Center and attract visitors while complementing the core convention business. At this point, everything but a casino is apparently on the table.
The four-level pavilion was designed by renowned architects Gene Summers and Helmut Jahn, and is considered one of Chicago’s “great mid-century modern buildings,” according to Preservation Chicago. But the building has seen better days, and needs a new roof, repairs to the parking structure, exterior glass replacement, interior upgrades and other improvements.
Heywood Sanders, a convention expert and professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, said the state of Lakeside Center reflects both a declining industry and mismanagement by MPEA.
“Deferred maintenance is a failure,” Sanders said. “Their performance as a host of conventions and trade shows has been highly problematic.”
Sanders said McCormick Place should think outside the lakefront box and be open to other uses for a ‘distinguished piece of architecture on a critical piece of public land.’ Replacing convention space, he said, is not a priority. ‘Having seen their business systematically shrink, after doing all the things that they said they needed to do to boost their business, I question their contention that they need to replace any exhibit space they lose.’
MPEA has set a Dec. 22 deadline for the request for information on redeveloping Lakeside Center. It expects to winnow the submissions down to two or three viable options and issue a request for proposals by mid-2023, Clark said.
Farpoint Development, which missed out on its bid to turn Lakeside Center into a casino, plans to participate in the competitive process to redevelop the building.
“We have ideas for an adaptive reuse for the building that we are contemplating and trying to figure out if they are feasible economically,” Goodman said. (Channick, Chicago Tribune, 9/20/22)

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