By Jenny Berg Posted February 16, 2009, 11:24 AM EST
CHICAGO “There's music on, but if not for that, you could hear that HVAC hum," said a representative for Jeep at the Chicago Auto Show's First Look for Charity gala. The event, held at McCormick Place on Thursday night, benefited 18 local charities and gave some 9,000 guests a sneak peek at the show on the night before it opened to the public.
The Jeep rep, who was taking guests for a spin around an off-road course, was explaining to one concerned attendee why the indoor driving would not be detrimental to gala-goers' lungs—in addition to the venue's powerful HVAC, the rep said, the carbon dioxide situation was kept under control by the Chicago Fire Department, who sent firefighters to McCormick Place to patrol the show floor.
This year's auto show only featured one indoor driving course. In past, more economically sound years—according to the Jeep rep—there had been four, and they contained tropes like boulders and water crossings that were absent from the 2009 show.
The economy also seemed to affect attendance at this year's event. While the popular fund-raiser has drawn close to 10,000 guests in the past, this year's happening saw a crowd of about 9,000.
Still, the Chicago Automobile Association's Erik Higgins, who oversaw planning efforts for First Look for Charity, was hopeful that the event would raise funds comparable to those seen in previous years. “The economy has obviously made [selling tickets] tough this year,“ he said before Thursday night. “But we've eclipsed the $2 million mark for the past five years, and we're hoping we can clear the bar again this year." (Show organizers are still calculating the gala's total net profit.)
And despite the scaled-back indoor driving experience, frills weren't entirely absent from Thursday night's festivities. At the entrance to the showroom floor, an ice sculpture designed to resemble the “Route 66” sign crowned a table of complimentary flutes of champagne. Throughout the venue, staggered buffets featured thematic food that represented different states: Tamales and tortilla chips formed a spread at the “Texas/New Mexico/Arizona” table, while sushi chefs rolled up snacks at the ”California” station.
In what was perhaps the most useful indulgence for guests, staffers lined up at the auto show's entrance presented high-heel-wearing partygoers with complimentary slippers, which allowed them to circulate the show's 1.3 million square feet in comfort.