Registration is now open for the Annual Meeting, which will be live streamed from the Ritz-Carlton Chicago on Thursday, March 25 at 4:00 PM. It is a bittersweet moment for me, since I wish we could gather in person, but I thank Peter Simoncelli and his team for their generous hospitality, as always. We also appreciate the support of Encore (formerly PSAV) and Stacy Sweat Designs.
I am preparing to pass the torch to Dan Russell, who will assume the chairmanship at the Annual Meeting. In the meantime, I have important updates from the Association and our plans for 2021.
Like many of your businesses, the Association had to reduce staff, re-examine vendor relationships, and re-imagine operations in 2020 – to be fiscally responsible and ensure our survival after more than a century. In 2020, that meant making tough decisions like the elimination of positions, layoffs, salary reductions, and furloughs.
If not for the combination of your prompt payment of membership and board dues, those able to respond to the special funding appeal, and those able to maintain their commitment to a modified Lights Festival, we would not have made it through the year.
That hard work continued into 2021, and I regret to report that we eliminated two positions at the beginning of this year: Marisa Basile (VP of Governance) and Ashley Gordon (Director of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships). I would also like to acknowledge the great contributions of Donna Dugo, who resigned as Director of Membership last month to pursue a new opportunity. I wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
As we move forward with a greatly reduced team, we carry forth the Association’s mission and will provide constant value to our members and stakeholders, despite fresh obstacles. Kimberly Bares, President & CEO, officers and key committees of the board have been vigilant in reviewing financials and creating a path forward.
Since December 2020, several developments have affected how we operate in 2021, including:
- The mid-December denial of the SSA (Special Service Area), which would have supported operational and overhead costs, and allowed us to initiate activation, security, and planning projects to more actively welcome workers, visitors, and tourists back to the district.
- The move of most of our revenue generating events (Annual Gala and the Lights Festival) to the 4th quarter (October and November), increasing the probability of our ability to hold in-person events or thoughtfully plan for alternatives.
- A notification from BMO Harris Bank that they will not continue as title sponsor of the Lights Festival in 2021, although they are open to continue the partnership in other arenas and we appreciate their ongoing support of the Association.
Facing these headwinds for 2021, it was imperative to find ways to ensure a minimum of 12 months of financial stability for the Association; and so, our ability to conduct core member services and advocate for loosened restrictions on the road to recovery, until in-person, revenue-generating activities can occur later in the year.
There are several encouraging signs that will help build our momentum, including:
- Infection levels are slowing. Illinois and Chicago are both back to single digit infection rates.
- State and city restrictions on indoor dining, retail capacity limits, and group gathering sizes are being lifted in line with our lower infection rates. The Association will continue to advocate for regulations based in science and responsive to our improvements.
- The next COVID-19 relief package will include millions in direct relief for Chicago, as well as our industry partners.
- There are an increased number and methods of testing along with fine-tuned tracing.
- Effective vaccines have been created and vaccination distribution is well under way.
- Travel restrictions have been lessened to and from Chicago and negative PCR testing is now allowed in lieu of a ten-day quarantine.
- There is broad knowledge and utilization of public health and safety protocols (masks wearing, social distancing, hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, disinfecting and cleaning methods, etc.)
- Many organizations have adjusted their crowd control and cleaning/disinfecting procedures and altered HVAC / ventilation systems, including the use of outdoor spaces particularly in good weather conditions.
While this list is not comprehensive, it does capture many reasons for optimism in 2021. I would also add that the Association is on more stable financial ground due to the generosity, active engagement, and leadership of so many board members and the broader membership.
Going forward, I would ask you to continue investing your trust, time, talent, and treasure in The Magnificent Mile Association as we work together to rebuild our incredible district. We will build back better together.