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As Chicago prepares bid, hotels scramble
By James Fuller and Eric Peterson | Daily Herald Staff

Chief trainer Jochen Hippenstiel works with one of the Lipizzans at Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, which has been named the site of equestrian events in the 2016 Olympics come to Chicago.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

The Sears Centre skybox overlooks the arena's events. Organizers hope the center will be among the host sites for the 2016 Olympics.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center General Manager Tom Robertson is eager to welcome Olympic guests and events.

 

Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

The Sears Centre, which already hosts a variety of sporting events like this West Aurora vs. Batavia game, could be a 2016 Olympic venue.

 

DAILY HERALD FILE PHOTO

A statue of Colonel Edward Baker stands watch in front of the Hotel Baker in St Charles, one of many suburban hotels that have signed up to house visitors to the 2016 Olympics if Chicago wins the Games.

 

Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer

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Published: 8/16/2008 8:25 PM

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As the Beijing Olympics unfold, the people working to bring the Games to Chicago in 2016 are nearing a vital goal - with the helps of the suburbs.

Chicago Olympic committee members say they have neared the two-thirds mark to seal hotel room commitments, one of the major competitive portions of the bidding process. In fact, it's so competitive, that they're not saying just how many rooms they're seeking.

Officials must prove they've got enough hotels for tens of thousands of visitors and athletes. And that's in addition to rooms for the media, security and Olympic staff, many of whom will be in town as long as six months before and after the games.

The suburbs will be the major staging point for those long-term guests. Chicago 2016 staff has toured the suburbs in recent weeks and met with convention and visitors bureau officials. The goal was to get local hotels, resorts and college housing groups to sign contracts that will dedicate 85 percent of their room space to those long-term guests.

The geographical range the committee is reaching out to shows the economic footprint the games would have if Chicago secures the bid. Chicago 2016 staff has stretched as far north as Gurnee, as far east as LaPorte County, Ind., as far south as Kankakee and as far west as St. Charles. Chicago's McCormick Place would be considered the epicenter of the Olympic activity.

Deadlines are now approaching for local hotels to return their commitment contracts.

St. Charles area hotels, for example, just passed their deadline to decide if they want to be a host site. Like most towns, the bulk of the major room-providers have signed contracts, including the Hotel Baker, Pheasant Run Resort & Spa, Best Western, Holiday Inn and Hampton Inn.

Hotel hurdles

Meanwhile, some smaller hotels, such as the Country Inn, are balking at the contract because it asks for a commitment that is too far in the future to be able to promise current hotel ownership will still be in place.

Potential turnover in ownership is a bigger concern for smaller hotels, which are more frequently bought and sold than larger chains. The Olympic contracts are legally binding through ownership changes, prompting some of the smaller outlets to shy away.

That's a potential problem as delegations from smaller countries may not be able to afford a long-term stay at a large hotel. In contrast, ownership security and the potential for big profits also makes the hotels with the largest allotment of rooms the most likely to sign the Olympic contracts.

For instance, in Lake County, the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, Hyatt Deerfield and Keylime Cove Water Resort are among the biggest hospitality names in the area and all committed 85 percent of their rooms early in the process.

"The housing is such a critical component to Chicago securing this bid," said Maureen Riedy, president of the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "So it's really incumbent for the convention and visitors bureaus to come together so that Chicago will be No. 1 in that category."

Lake County would not only house visitors, but also be the site of at least one competition: Tempel Farms in Wadsworth recently was designated as the host site for 2016 equestrian events, if the games come to Chicago.

Yet, when it comes to committing hotel rooms, some were initially hesitant.

"People were pretty alarmed about the games at first," said Nanette Traetow of the DuPage County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It actually started out being kind of a negative. Local hotels started to look at the Olympics as a glass half empty, but now it's been turned into a glass half full and then some."

The fear was they'd block out a third of their rooms with no guarantee they'd be filled, and end up with months of empty rooms. Yet Chicago 2016 officials assured the hotel owners they will know a year before the games if their rooms are needed. If not, they can release the rooms to the public.

On the plus side, the contract is designed to give the hotels a nice financial boost. The Chicago 2016 committee sets the hotel rates with a built-in special event rate escalator and inflation adjustment. In other words, hotels commit to what could be a larger than normal percentage of their rooms booked, for far longer stays and at a more profitable rate than usual.

"It's kind of a no-brainer at that point," Traetow said. "All our hotels were waiting for was to hear what's in it for us."

DuPage County's deadline to return contracts to the Olympic committee was July 31. Traetow declined to provide a full list of hotels that have signed on, but said there's been "an overwhelmingly positive response" for the DuPage hospitality community.

"The reality is they absolutely need us," Traetow said. "They need all the collar counties to be involved in this to get the games. And DuPage's location is the type that makes us especially critical. We're the closest to both airports. We are in the perfect position for people to get into and out of the games. We are it!"

Olympic options

Managers of hotels in suburban Cook County may beg to differ. The big hospitality names in Schaumburg and other communities are lining up to sign commitment contracts, and hope to prove they are worthy of some of the actual Olympic events.

Tom Robertson, general manager of the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center, said he's definitely on board and thinks his convention center could be used for a related activity, such as a practice facility for a particular sport or country or as a media venue.

"Part of the issue is the Chicagoland area does need to make a commitment about inventory capacity," Robertson said. "We're extremely interested. And, in general terms, the big box hotels are on board. I'd be taxed to tell you what hotels are not on board at this point."

Some communities are eyeing additions to their hotel stock, potentially making them even more appealing to large Olympic delegations.

Hoffman Estates has more than 1,200 rooms in eight hotels. But now there are plans for additional hotels including the 240-room SplasH20 water park, which may open in 2010. That's good news as the Chicago 2016 staff is set to meet with both Hoffman Estates and Mount Prospect in the next few weeks.

Linda Scheck, Hoffman Estate' tourism and business coordinator, said the Sears Centre arena should be a lure. She hopes all athletes competing in a particular sport - say gymnastics - at the Sears Centre could then elect to stay in Hoffman Estates.

And she said the village is building a resume to host events, including the World League volleyball matches with Team USA versus Bulgaria, held in June. And a USA gymnastics event is slated to occur at the Sears Centre, presumably as a prelude to Chicago having the 2016 Summer Games.

The one-upsmanship is a sign of the pressure hotel owners and city managers may feel heading into the games to make their facilities and communities as attractive as possible, or risk losing out on the financial windfall of unprecedented international tourism in the suburbs.

"When they arrive, the Olympics are likely to be the only game in town," Robertson said.

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Ashok Selvam also contributed to this report.