Posted Nov 29, 2005 10:37 am CST
It was with a heavy heart that ABA officials canceled plans to hold the 2006 midyear meeting in New Orleans.
On Sept. 16, the Board of Governors announced that it had voted to move the February meeting to the Hyatt Regency in Chicago, the city where ABA headquarters is located. The dates for the meeting have been pushed back a week to Feb. 8-13.
“The last thing I and the Board of Governors wanted to do was move the meeting at a time of need for the city of New Orleans,” says ABA President Michael S. Greco. “We tried and waited as long as we could to keep the meeting in the city of New Orleans.”
The decision to move the meeting was made following an announcement from the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau that all meetings through March 31, 2006, would be canceled because of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.
Among the bureau’s concerns were infrastructure issues. For example, should hotels be up and running by February, other essential services, such as taxis, might not be available, says Donna Karl, vice president of client relations with the convention bureau.
Space was also an issue after the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it would be using the New Orleans Convention Center as its headquarters. Much of its staff as well as local police officers will be staying in the city’s available hotel rooms.
Although the ABA will no longer be sending its members to New Orleans, the association has not abandoned the battered city. The Board of Governors has voted to donate the money it saves from the site change to a Hurricane Katrina disaster relief fund. And the Chicago Hyatt agreed to donate $10 for every occupied room night during the meeting to a relief fund selected by the association.
The ABA created a task force to prepare for the onslaught of legal needs of hurricane victims, ranging from insurance claims and home repair contracts to estate administration and replacement of wills. Also, the ABA Young Lawyers Division and FEMA jointly operated hotlines in hurricane ravaged states to link lawyer volunteers with those who need legal help. (See “Lawyers Answer the Call,” Sept. 9, 2005, ABA Journal eReport.)
The Chicago Hyatt was chosen for the midyear meeting because it was one of the few available hotels that could fit the event under one roof, says Marty Balogh, director of the ABA’s Meetings and Travel Department. The midyear meeting requires more than 100 meeting rooms and 1,600 hotel rooms–a requirement unlikely to change since attendance historically has been consistent, he says.
The site change decision does not surprise David Bienvenu, co chair of the ABA’s New Orleans Advisory Committee. “Initially, I assumed it would not be feasible,” he says, although others had hoped the ABA could help the city by keeping the meeting there.
Those who have already registered and made hotel reservations for the New Orleans meeting using the ABA’s housing and registration company will automatically have their reservations and deposits switched to the Hyatt Regency Chicago. If those registered can’t attend the Chicago meeting, their hotel deposits and meeting fees will be refunded. (For more detailed information on meeting logistics, please log on to www.abanet.org.)
Chicago last hosted a midyear meeting in 1982–a fact perhaps explained by the city’s less-than-optimal February weather forecasts. The ABA did explore moving the midyear meeting to a warmer location following the decision to move it from New Orleans, Greco says, but nothing was feasible.
So far, there have been no complaints. “I love Chicago,” Bienvenu says. “And I love it 12 months a year.”