With many thanks to all who provided feedback on our recent CoCoFEST! and Grant Leighty for working tirelessly on initial 2023 CoCoFEST! planning; Grant and I, on behalf of the GCCC board of directors, are pleased to confirm the location and date for the 2023 31st Annual “Last” Chicago CoCoFEST! The event will be held, as previously noted, on April 22nd and 23rd, 2023 at the Holiday Inn & Suites Carol Stream. Grant and I apologize for the delay in confirming the dates, though it was necessary since we will be hosting at a new venue.
Though many event logistics details will continue unchanged (Friday evening vendor/exhibit setup, event start/end times, etc.), we’ll share more details as we continue to plan out the event over the next 4 months. For those wondering, the venue has an on-site restaurant and we are planning to continue our on-site Saturday evening catered meal. As with previous shows, there will be a block of King and DOuble Queen rooms for $119/night available for purchase withing the 140 total hotel rooms available.
The recent global situation as well as inflationary pressures have increased venue pricing in general, and our 2023 event costs as well. As such, we’d appreciate hearing from past attendees, presenters, exhibitors, and vendors on creative ways to fund the 2023 event.
Outsiders may sniff that spending time in a group such as ours is a waste of time, but beyond the community and technical aspects of belonging to this organization, I am so thankful for the opportunity to plan events like this. It has given me a new appreciation for both the costs needed to successfully hold such an event, how venue operators financially view such functions, and the sheer amount of planning necessary prior to the event date.
Of course, the event does not thrive without vendors, exhibitors, presenters, and attendees. We have 8 months until the 2023 show, so I will make the initial call for new and revised exhibits, interesting presentations, and interesting and economical products.
As most of you are aware, our 2022 CoCoFEST! utilized the Holiday Inn Elk Grove Village location. Fewer may also be aware that the venue changed ownership a mere 2 weeks before our May event. As is normal, we paid our 2022 venue rental bill at the end of the show and sat down to sign the 2023 rental agreement. However, the venue stated they wanted to wait a few weeks as they were in the process of validating pricing and such. Grant Leighty, CoCoFEST! coordinator, and I, agreed, but I stipulated we needed to lock in our April 22/23 dates so we did not lose them in the meantime. The venue agreed.
A few weeks later, we received the updated rental contract from the venue and were shocked that the 2023 rates were considerably more than in the past. After Grant verified the pricing was not a clerical mistake, we discussed options. We knew rental rates would be climbing given all of the changes happening, but we felt the new pricing was unrealistic, so we started checking pricing at other venues to better manage expectations. To put things in perspective, we paid approximately $0.38/sq ft while while in Lombard (Heron Point), and that number moved to $0.53/sq ft while at Elk Grove Village (Holiday Inn). For 2023, we would be asked to pay approximately $4.50/sq ft for the same amenities.
After checking a number of venues in the approximate area, we firmly believe the Elk Grove Village rates are unrealistic. That said, it’s also probably unrealistic of the club to expect pre-COVID pricing to continue. To use the same comparison, other venues in the area are quoting rates from $0.80/sq ft to over $1.62/sq ft, and those quotes don’t include all costs, like tax, service fees, beverage costs, etc. Therefore, we do need to adjust what we consider normal in 2023 and beyond.
Another concern is venue size and location. Taking size first, we’ve outgrown the 2100 sq ft main hall of Heron Point, while we don’t quite fill the Holiday Inn’s 4559 sq ft main hall (but there’s room to grow). Ideally, we need about 3-4K sq ft for the main exhibit hall, and 600-1200 sq ft for the presentation/auction room. Grant looked at a number of venues, and the locations mostly seem to be much smaller (Heron Point size) or much larger (Clarion Inn size, where VCF-Midwest is held).
Consider Clarion Inn, for example. Tony Podraza, Grant, and I chatted with the venue coordinator in person last weekend, and here’s some things he wanted us to consider:
The main venue hall is 4 3000 sq ft sections, for 12000 sq ft in total (not including the huge foyer and the massive side hallway.
The venue really doesn’t have a way to sub-divide the 3000 sq ft sections into smaller chunks. He suggested a pole and a curtain, but that’s not sound dampening.
3000 sq ft is a bit tight for our main venue needs (as noted above, it’d be OK for now, but offers little room for incremental show growth)
To organize the show at this location, we’d need 2 of the 4 3000sq ft sections (one for exhibit and one for presentations)
On principle, the venue does not rent to dissimilar groups on a given weekend. So, even though we don’t need the entire venue, they would not consider renting the remaining space out to someone else unless that other group is very similar to ours (another computer club or a game club, etc.)
They have a minimum charge out rate for the entire space for the weekend.
So, though we only need 4-5K of space, we’d need to pay the minimum full venue rate for the weekend, and that rate changes depending on the date. The coordinator noted that during the wedding season, he doesn’t rent out the facility for less than $30K/weekend (which gives you an idea of wedding costs). Mind you, the rate quoted to us was much lower, but we’d need to steer clear of wedding season. Guess where the normal CoCoFEST! dates are located?
On the other hand, Grant found a few venues that were eager to work with us, but they only have 2000 sq ft of conference room space. We simply can no longer fit into that small a venue. It’s a shame, too, as the coordinators seem very flexible and ready to customize things to fit our budget and needs.
Location is another concern. Besides the obvious location concerns (a preference for locations near O’Hare and not in high crime areas), some of the venue were just hard to get to. One sits at the corner of two main freeways, and just driving to the venue required extreme diligence to not miss the turn or be in the wrong lane. For years, we’ve enjoyed easy access to the venue. Heron Point was at the corner of 355 and North Avenue, but about the only tricky part was getting to the parking lot from the East on off North Avenue, and most folks figure out the shortcut by cutting through the Heron Point parking lot from the East entrance. Elk Grove Village was likewise pretty easy to navigate.
I don’t want to discount other considerations, like quality, cleanliness, and number of hotel rooms, venue loading/unloading options, on site food, etc. But, the size concern alone shortened the list considerably.
Easy loading and unloading option through double doors right outside main hall
Additional rooms available for breakouts or other uses (for additional fees, of course)
Our preferred April 22/23 2023 dates are available, and no premium rates to leverage them
As noted, Grant is discussing venue costs with the location. The initial quote is much more reasonable than the Elk Grove Village option, but still strains the fest budget. We’re hoping to negotiate a bit more favorable terms.
Another option to consider is the Clarion Inn venue (VCF-Midwest). To do so, we’d need to make two changes. The first is absolute:
We’d need to move the fest up into March (off season). They’d be willing to give us a late March date (maybe even March 31/April 1), but no later.
The next option concerns cost. For off-season, there’s a minimum charge rate, regardless of sq ft usage. We have a couple ways we could meet the minimum charge:
We could increase fees and such to cover the cost ourselves. Since this venue’s cost is 3X our previous venues, covering all of that cost with fee increases might be unrealistic.
We can spread the cost into other areas. If we advertise a slightly more expensive room rate (think $130 versus $110), the difference per night can be used to meet the venue charge rate. I’m sure folks have opinions on this, but it is an option to consider.
Either instead of the above or in addition to it, we could guarantee room rental nights or food intake at the on-site cafe. Unlike room rate alterations, these would be guarantees (we’d be responsible for the difference if the minimums are not met). Again, I’m sure folks have opinions on this.
We could find a “partner” group wanting to host a similarly sized event at the same venue on the same weekend. There’s some value in partnering with another group (more cross traffic, etc.), but I’m not sure at this time who we would approach
The first change is not that hard to make. Choosing which direction to pursue for the second change is harder. Each option poses concerns, and it may be unrealistic to find a suitable hosting partner, but there are upsides. The venue needs to charge out a minimum rate but wants to work with us. Obviously, this venue offers plenty of room for growth. In addition to the 12000 sq ft in the ballroom, there’s probably 9000 sq ft in the foyer area and another 2000 sq ft in the side hallway that could be used to support additional smaller groups or special presentations or exhibits now and in the future.
I’m awaiting better pricing on a third option (Marriott Schaumburg). Like Clarion Inn, the venue is too large for our needs (~9000 sq ft), and the initial quote was the same as Clarion (given the same cost, we’d probably prefer the Clarion Inn location), but there may be opportunities to lower the price. Unlike the Clarion Inn location, the Marriott Ballroom has two 2340 sq ft middle sections and then 8 (4 per side) 490 sq ft sections on the sides that can be individually configured. Like the Carol Stream hotel, this one is renovated ($22M), offers easy access, provides easy loading options, and remains close to restaurants (Portillo’s is about 5 mile away :-)).
Initially, I thought we’d gather some additional quotes to help with negotiation at the Elk Grove location. But, based on feedback Grant has received from other organizations previously using the Elk Grove Village Holiday Inn location, it appears everyone has seen the same rate hikes. Unfortunately, no one has seen much success negotiating lower rates. While I know there were no major issues with the venue during the most recent fest, I do know the hotel portion suffered some complaints. Those attendees will most likely not shed a tear if we pick a new location for the 2023 show.
Tangentially related, Grant found some nice venues that are simply too small to hold CoCoFEST! Two such venues were Holiday Inn O’Hare and Holiday Inn Hoffman Estates. The O’Hare location was bigger (3100 sq ft ballroom), but it is the one situated at a busy corner of two main highways. The other was smaller (2000 sq ft), but also sports easy access and the venue coordinator is extremely interested in working with groups like GCCC to rent the venue. While neither will work for CoCoFEST!, I have long personally thought a “retro hackathon” weekend would be nice to organize in the Chicago area, and such an event could be more easily fit into a smaller venue like this. I’ve not even inquired on GCCC’s position concerning such an event, but the eagerness of the venue coordinator at Hoffman Estates creates even more personal interest to consider something like this. If others are interested in this or something else that can utilize these venues, feel free to reach out with ideas.
As always, we welcome feedback and are happy to answer questions on this topic. Feel free to contact us via email, Facebook, or the CoCo mailing list.