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Rosemont: It takes a village

Not all major convention centers are located in large cities. The Village of Rosemont, located just 20 miles northwest of Chicago, is a leading example that good things can come in small packages.

Defined as a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet but smaller than a town, the Village of Rosemont spans only 2.5 square miles. Home to the 12th largest convention center in the U.S., Donald E. Stephens Convention Center turns the petite village into prime real estate.

Ribbon-cutting with Mayor Donald E. Stephens (center)
Ribbon-cutting with Mayor Donald E. Stephens (center)

Formerly the site of Halo lighting factory, the space was repurposed as the Rosemont Convention Center by Donald E. Stephens, the first mayor of Rosemont. In 2007, the facility was renamed to honor its late founder.

Bill Anderson, general manager, Rosemont Convention & Tourism Bureau, finds the Illinois suburb’s uniquely compact layout ideal. Although it has a small footprint, Rosemont’s unbeatable location just next door to Chicago serves as a huge advantage for its convention business.

Easily accessible by car, taxi or ‘L’ Train service, Chicago’s numerous restaurants, museums and attractions are a short trip away.

“[Rosemont] has Chicago in its backyard, which highlights the area as more of a convention destination than ever before,” said Grant Bailey, assistant executive director, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

With O’Hare International Airport, the second busiest airport in the U.S.; major hotel brands; and upscale dining and entertainment in such close proximity to the Convention Center, delegates are getting incomparable value by the square foot, something with which exhibitors are all too familiar.

Accounting for roughly 6 to 8 percent of a tradeshow’s budget, according to Anderson, accommodation and transportation costs can amount up to thousands of dollars. Featuring a total of 6,000 rooms, each hotel in Rosemont offers a direct shuttle from the airport, arriving to the property in approximately seven minutes.

Donald E. Stephens Convention Center has no official partnership with any particular hotel to provide delegates with a variety of options, according to the facility’s executive director, Chris Stephens. Rather, the Village works with each hotel to accommodate delegates to the Convention Center, such as having bellhops help transport print collateral and other materials from the property across the street to the show floor.

Connecting the convention center to the parking garage, the sky bridge is climate controlled.
Connecting the convention center to the parking garage, the sky bridge is climate controlled.

A climate-controlled sky bridge connects the second largest parking garage in Illinois to the Convention Center as well as a number of hotels including the Hyatt Regency, Hilton, Embassy Suites and Double Tree by Hilton Hotel.

Described as “the full package,” Bailey finds that the facility’s short distance to the airport and hotels saves exhibitors a lot of time and helps attract regional shows from the Midwestern region. A quick drive from major cities like Minneapolis brings many manufacturing and product showcasing shows to the area.

Rather than competing with larger facilities, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center serves as a smaller, viable option for shows that do not fit at McCormick Place in Chicago, according to the Village of Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens.

Hosting 75 percent tradeshows and 25 percent public shows, the events fill its 840,000 square feet of exhibition space year-round. Sixty facility employees handle carpentry, electrical work, sales and all other aspects for over 120 tradeshows annually as well as corporate and local events and weddings.

Rosemont Exposition Services (RES) has served as the facility’s in-house service contractor since 1979. Dave Houston, president and general manager, RES, considers the “family vibe” as one of the advantages for exhibitors and show organizers.

Houston shared that delegates develop a synergy with RES and some facility employees who have been with the Convention Center for over 25 years.

“We’re not bureaucratic like a normal convention center,” said Houston. “We’re all working for the same [goal].”

In-house service contractor Rosemont Exposition Services builds personal relationships with clients.
In-house service contractor Rosemont Exposition Services builds personal relationships with clients.

Conceived by the late Mayor Donald E. Stephens, RES is driven by top-notch customer service standards. While using the same six unions contracted to work at McCormick Place in Chicago, the in-house general contractor maintains a structure that is unique to Rosemont.

As the only general contractor in the U.S. with a half-hour minimum for labor, RES is also capable of handling one-day notifications from display houses with an on-site print shop.

Known as the Village motto, the facility has also adapted a “Can-do Attitude,” which serves as its biggest selling point. Having RES working with each and every show makes move-in and move-out seamless, according to Chris Stephens, executive director, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center.

“Show managers feel like their show is on cruise control when exhibiting at our convention center,” said Chris Stephens.

According to Bailey, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center prides itself for “listening to client needs,” which helps account for the 90 percent of shows that return to Rosemont each year.

One of the first shows at the Convention Center in 1977, Chicago O’Hare Summer Antiques Show & Sale celebrates its 37th year at the venue in August.

The first major tradeshow to relocate from Chicago to Rosemont was TransWorld Exhibits in 1978. Produced by the Passis family, it began as a merchandise show and now exhibits fashion, jewelry and accessories several times per year.

Private Label Trade Show has been the largest show to be held at the facility. Produced by Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA), the show has exhibited in Rosemont for over 30 years. Retailers and wholesalers gather annually to showcase private label programs.

Setting the ‘gold standard’ in the tradeshow industry, the Private Label Trade Show has been honored as a Gold 100 show by Trade Show Executive magazine. According to Anthony Aloia, vice president, PLMA, the show has grown exponentially from only 35 booths in 1982 to over 2,600 booths in 2013.

The facility was renamed in 2007 to honor its late founder and mayor.
The facility was renamed in 2007 to honor its late founder and mayor.

Returning to the venue each year, the show has built a long-standing partnership with Donald E. Stephens Convention Center. Aloia rates the hospitality of both RES and the Village among the top reasons Rosemont was chosen above other cities.

Accommodating the show, the facility’s several renovations over the years paralleled with the show’s growth by correspondingly increasing square footage.

Working in tandem with facility managers, PLMA proposed an overhaul to the G Hall lobby to open up the space between the first and second floors in November 2011.

Together, PLMA and facility officials designed a remodel that expanded the lobby and raised the ceiling by approximately 20 feet to ease traffic flow between levels. Ballrooms were also to be expanded to add more meeting space.

Although facility officials found it challenging to find a time to renovate that would not displace exhibiting shows, the expansion to G Hall was completed in a short time by January 2012, proving Donald E. Stephens Convention Center truly listens to its clients’ needs.




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