Claim of River North hotel not wanting convention business seems like science fiction to some
Loop North News

Hotels & Restaurants

Chi-Fi Con 2014

(Above) Flying saucers buzz Marina City in this illustration that was used to promote Chi-Fi, a convention for geeks – their word, not ours – that was scheduled for March at the Westin Chicago River North on Dearborn Street.

Claim of River North hotel not wanting convention business seems like science fiction to some

  • Convention says hotel called them ‘freaks’
  • Hotel: “It was about economics and a straightforward contract issue”

19-Jan-14 – Convention organizers and experts on science fiction fans are skeptical about a claim by a local group that it cancelled an event at Westin Chicago River North because the hotel insulted them.

A more likely story, says the publisher of the world’s oldest science fiction magazine, is that the convention did not have enough registrations and wanted out of a contract with the Westin without paying an $84,000 penalty.

Chi-Fi Con 2014, a “convention celebrating geekdom,” was scheduled for March 27-30 at the Westin. Celebrities scheduled to appear included stars of Star Trek Voyager and Mystery Science Theater 3000.

But it did not work out. On January 14, the convention’s chairman, James Dobbs, posted a note on their website saying the event would not take place at the Westin due to “concerns about the ability of their staff to create a welcoming and accepting atmosphere towards our attendees.”

Specifically, he said “a senior Westin employee” called his group “freaks.”

Good Day Chicago

(Above) James Dobbs (left) is interviewed by Corey McPherrin and Melody Mendez on the Fox 32 news program Good Day Chicago.

There was also disagreement, Dobbs claimed, over an anti-harassment policy that in general has become a concern of science fiction conventions that are becoming increasing diverse, and disagreement over how the hotel would help the group promote the event.

The hotel responded with a note on its Facebook page saying they were “extremely disappointed in the false claims being made by Chi-Fi Con.”

“Our team worked diligently to accommodate this group booking, and we never objected to the organization, its attendees, or the anti-harassment policy. After much discussion, Chi-Fi Con asked to be allowed out of their contract when it became clear that mutual needs could not be met, and we agreed.”

Appearing on Fox 32’s Good Day Chicago the next day, Dobbs said for months they had trouble tracking down a local representative of the Westin. When they did come to the hotel for a meeting, “the event planner came down about 30 minutes late, totally unprepared, didn’t have any of the documentation we’d been requesting for about six months at that point, and had a very negative and hostile attitude.”

Said Dobbs, “We definitely realized mutual needs couldn’t be met. Our need is to be treated with respect. Their need is not to have us there.”

Convention’s behavior seems amazing to publisher who specializes in such stories

Steve Davidson is publisher of Amazing Stories, the website that evolved from the iconic science fiction magazine that launched in 1926.

After spending the week talking to both sides, interviewing experts, and studying documents, he says he went looking for “solid, verifiable information” to support the group’s claims and says he got back “bupkis.”

In an article published on his site on Saturday, Davidson says a “preponderance of the evidence” has him convinced “the event was not going to live up to their contractual obligations” and they wanted out of their contract.

Steve Davidson On Friday, Davidson told Loop North News that convention experts tell him they do not believe the group’s claims.

“That it is apparent to them from everything they see in relation to the convention – that they simply did not have enough attendance,” says Davidson (left). “The hotel called them on it. They wanted out of the contract without having to pay anything. And therefore they’re raising a ruckus about these other issues.”

He notes that Chi-Fi was trying to organize its convention in less than a year. By comparison, he says planning and promotion for the World Science Fiction Convention held in downtown Chicago in 2012 took four years – two years just to select a venue.

On December 5, 2013, according to an email that appears on Davidson’s website, a Westin representative said the full cancellation penalty was $84,570. That amount was lowered to $30,000 and then apparently waived entirely.

The hotel denies any “disparagement” and says it never objected to the anti-harassment policy.

“It was about economics and a straightforward contract issue,” Maggie Menozzi, the hotel’s Account Director, told Davidson on January 16. “With a short time until the event, very few guest rooms had been booked and we do not allow any group to use the suites as party rooms. We let them cancel so we could pursue other business in that time period and they could search for another venue. We waived cancellation penalties because pursuing the group for payment did not make sense.”

Number of registrations could be quite low

Davidson believes the number of actual hotel bookings could be as low as 24 room-nights (24 rooms for one night or 12 rooms for two nights, etc.). He says he has tried to get Dobbs to confirm or deny the number, without success.

“What he has tried to tell me is that because of all the problems they were having with the hotel, they themselves told people not to book a room until they got things straightened out.”

But Davidson says he has not found any such statements on the convention’s website or Facebook page.

“People who are pushing a true narrative,” he says, “are usually willing to provide documentary evidence if it exists.”

Dobbs has said Chi-Fi is working with other venues and the convention will be held in spring 2015. Davidson is not so optimistic.

“If it turns out that it really was the convention group’s [fault], they are not going to have another event next year because nobody will attend.”

Chi-Fi did not respond to an email from Loop North News that requested comment.

By Steven Dahlman | Loop North News | Published 19-Jan-14 2:59 AM

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