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CHICAGO-An $800-million expansion is needed to handle some conventions that are being turned away from the already massive McCormick Place, as well as fend off competing halls in more entertainment-oriented venues such as Las Vegas and Orlando, plan commission members were told Thursday. They agreed, recommending an 800,000-sf expansion to the city council for approval.

Although the 2.2-million-sf McCormick Place already is the largest convention center in North America, facilities in those two Sunbelt cities will crack the 2-million-sf mark this year. However, McCormick Place often runs out of room, says general manager Tom Mobley, as it will in the coming weeks when the International Manufacturing and Technology Show comes to town and “uses every square foot” of convention space in the exposition center along the lakefront.

The 800,000-sf addition of a West Hall at the southeast corner of Cermak Road and Indiana Avenue will include a 60,000-sf banquet hall, which would become the largest in the city, as well as 200,000 sf of meeting room space. The addition will allow McCormick Place to host a major show while another one is being set up in another part of the complex, rather than shutting down for a week.

“Our goal is that we’ll open the doors in 2007,” says Jon Clay, acting chief operating officer for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. “By expanding, we’ll be able to do smaller shows while we’re waiting for the other shows to come in.”

Although McPier officials hope to keep the costs near $675 million, the price tag for the last expansion, the authority governing McCormick Place and Navy Pier can borrow up to $800 million. The bonds will be paid back largely by tourists and visitors to the conventions through taxes on hotel rooms, car rentals, restaurant checks as well as departure fees for taxis and limousines.

While providing more convention space, the addition blends in with the historic Motor Row to the west, beginning on the other side of Indiana Avenue, says department of planning and development commissioner Alicia Berg. She says the department also is happy with plans to relocate and maintain the façade of the Platt Luggage Building, designed by noted architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. “We were also pleased to get a four-acre green roof,” she adds.

Berg also notes the plan calls for a “good traffic management system” with new access drives and truck staging areas.

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