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Dining, sporting, academic events to dovetail with NATO/G-8 summits

DWelsh CEO   President Chicago Conventi  Tourism Bureau speaking G8/NATO  briefing Cultural Center. Wednesday January 25 2012

Don Welsh, CEO & President of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau, speaking at the G8/NATO briefing at the Cultural Center. Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 25, 2012 6:29PM

Officials tried to combat the “negativity” surrounding fears of violent protests outside the upcoming NATO/G-8 summits by promoting dining, theater, sporting and academic events that will dovetail with the summits.

During a press conference Wednesday at the Chicago Cultural Center, officials announced several events coordinated with the May 19-21 summits, including: a soccer and basketball tournament for teenagers on May 5; an international cooking program for Chicago Public Schools students; a series of talks on NATO and the global economy hosted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; and a “dine around” to showcase Chicago’s reputation as an international culinary capital.

In addition, officials said theaters across the city will offer a special promotion and CPS students will make a “welcome” video for visitors to the city. And officials also announced former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will serve as co-chairman of the host committee.

Host committee executive director Lori Healey said the events could help counter any security concerns associated with the event.

“All the focus on negativity is unproductive,” she said.

But Healey did not offer any new details about how the city is preparing for the possibility of tens of thousands of demonstrators during the summits, only saying, “We feel that we will be prepared for it.”

When asked about the possibility of angry demonstrations, Healey said, “This is not 1968,” referring to the violent clashes between police and protesters during Chicago’s Democratic National Convention that year.

The city is asking for help from other cities whose police officers have been federally trained to control large crowds, officials say. Out-of-town officers would work in the downtown “footprint” of the summit and would team up with Chicago cops.

Healey said she’s confident in the city’s public safety forces.

“If you want to be a global city, you have to act like a global city,” she said.

Asked about the traffic congestion expected during the event, officials acknowledged that citizens can expect some delays because of motorcades. The city will use an instant messaging system called Notify Chicago to provide citizens with phone, email and text alerts about street closings and other commuting problems, officials said.

Healey said the summits are expected to draw about 7,500 delegates, 4,000 staffers and 3,000 journalists from abroad.

Those projected attendance numbers are far smaller than what some other conventions draw in Chicago, but officials said they’re banking on international media attention to boost tourism in the future.

“This will be our Super Bowl of meetings,” said Don Welsh, president and CEO of the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau.

Healey said she doesn’t have a dollar estimate yet for the economic impact of Chicago hosting the summits. Pittsburgh reaped an estimated $135 million by hosting a G-20 summit in 2009, she said.

Healey was clearly miffed by a Chicago Sun-Times story Wednesday that quoted Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, saying downtown businesses need to prepare for the worst in case protests turn ugly. He recommended businesses put board-up services on standby in case windows are shattered and post security guards 24 hours a day.

“Perhaps things were misconstrued,” Healey told reporters Wednesday.

At City Hall, meanwhile, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about Roper’s advice to stores.

Emanuel said he didn’t see the need for that kind of doomsday planning.

“This is an opportunity for Chicago to be showcased to the world and the world to be showcased to Chicago. And people throughout the city — and people in the retail and business area — are going to have an opportunity to do that,” the mayor said.

“There will be security throughout the city to do that. That’s the role of the Police Department. People who are in our city will continue to be able to access the stores on Michigan Avenue and we’ll have the security that the Police Department will be providing.”

Emanuel said he’s not having any second thoughts about hosting the summits.

“You have 3,000 foreign journalists coming to Chicago [and] 60 heads of state. We’re a world-class city with world-class potential. We always will do well when people come see Chicago and Chicago can tell its story,” the mayor said. “This is an opportunity for people to see what I know this city to be: the greatest city in the greatest country because this is the most American of American cities.”

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