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Why Relocating ACS National Meetings Can Become Necessary

by Willem R. Leenstra, Chair, Committee On Meetings & Expositions
May 12, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 19

On the recommendation of the ACS Council Committee on Meetings & Expositions (M&E), the ACS Board of Directors agreed to relocate the 2011 fall national meeting from Chicago to Denver. At its December 2007 meeting, the board also approved a move of the 2012 national meeting from New York to Philadelphia. The reasons for these recommendations relate to construction delays in New York and to feedback from members as expressed through survey results from registrants at the spring 2007 national meeting in

Officials at the New York City Visitors & Convention Bureau informed ACS that major renovations on the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center would not be completed in time to host the 2012 fall national meeting. The task fell on M&E and ACS staff to find and recommend a city comparable with New York within the timeline specified by ACS bylaws for holding the annual meeting, while still maintaining a presence on the East Coast. Fortunately, Philadelphia, a popular host venue with ACS members, was available.

Both during and after the recent ACS national meeting in Chicago, M&E members received a substantial number of negative comments from meeting attendees. Frankly, it was highly unusual for meeting attendees to seek us out to voice their concerns. Most of these complaints centered on the unreasonable distance between hotels and McCormick Place and the loss of valuable meeting time this engendered.

As M&E chair, I believe it is the committee's responsibility to address member complaints with regard to national meeting logistics and, if necessary, recommend improvements as needed. These complaints were significant enough that M&E asked ACS staff with expertise in member research to develop and implement a survey instrument that could gauge overall meeting attendee satisfaction. With oversight from M&E, the survey was e-mailed to 3,116 registrants including 152 councilors who attended the meeting. Members who responded said the following:

• McCormick Place was located too far from ACS hotels.

• Participants missed events or sessions due to poor scheduling or logistics.

• Sci-Mix was in an undesirable location and was overcrowded.

• Bus service was unacceptable.

• McCormick Place was too large and spread out.

Scheduling of talks and posters is one aspect that is under ACS control, and as a committee we work diligently with the divisions to minimize conflicts in the scheduling. However, the depth and diversity of technical programming offered, combined with Chicago's layout and the limited contractual space available at McCormick Place, means that sometimes attendees cannot physically be at all the events they would like to be.

But the other objections are essentially induced by Chicago's lack of lodging near its convention center. To wit, during peak periods, bus routes routinely exceeded 45 minutes each way. Such long shuttle trips clearly impact attendees' ability to move from technical symposia to poster sessions (the latter having been forced to be located inside two of the hotels rather than at the convention center).

Given the space challenges posed by Chicago, ACS meetings staff tried repeatedly to negotiate additional space for Sci-Mix at McCormick Place for 2011. Unfortunately, ACS staff and McCormick Place representatives were not able to reach a satisfactory resolution due to McCormick Place's conflicting rental agreements with other organizations during the identical time period.

Although making a decision to relocate a national meeting is never easy or done lightly, upon analyzing the results from the survey and considering the challenges that Chicago presents, members of the M&E Subcommittee on Site Selection agreed to recommend that the 2011 fall meeting be relocated.

Several months prior to the Chicago meeting, members of the subcommittee inspected the convention facilities and hotels in Denver. After that visit, Denver was added to the list of cities available and capable of hosting an ACS national meeting. Choosing Denver to replace Chicago thus became an obvious option because it would enable ACS to continue to have a presence in the Midwest.

Subsequently, M&E's executive committee discussed the subcommittee's analysis and concurred with its recommendation. The executive committee worked with ACS staff to review the contractual obligations and financial implications that would result if such a move were approved. The analysis indicated that a formal decision to relocate the meeting would be needed prior to Aug. 16, 2007, to avoid contractual penalties in excess of $500,000. Given these facts, the executive committee voted to approve the recommendation of the subcommittee and then forwarded it to the ACS Board of Directors for action at its June 2007 meeting, at which it was formally approved.

As a standing committee of the council, M&E certainly takes its responsibility to represent the interests of ACS members and of the council seriously. In addition, we are charged with providing our meeting attendees with the highest quality logistical support in order to provide an excellent meeting experience for all attendees. With our recent actions, we hope to have fulfilled our obligation in that regard.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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