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It will be a pain, but I’m going ga-ga over the G-8

Updated: February 25, 2012 8:05AM

When riding the L or waiting in line for your morning cup of coffee, maybe you’ve heard some of our fine city’s residents moaning about the prospect of hosting the NATO and G-8 summits this spring.

“We don’t even have money to keep the libraries open all week, why should we have to pay millions to secure a bunch of international muckety-mucks?” goes a popular complaint.

“We’re already a global city, I don’t understand all this talk about putting the city on an ‘international stage,’ ” goes another.

I’ve heard this one over and over again: “Nothing is worth the pain that’ll be caused by the traffic and the downtown closings.”

Those are all legitimate concerns. But let me speak for the scores of quiet foreign affairs geeks who, like me, spent their childhood pajama-clad Sunday mornings watching people on political talk shows talk about these meetings of the presidents of the world’s major economies since back when they were the G-6 and then the G-7: This is awesome.

London, Tokyo, Venice, Versailles, Paris, Naples and Cologne — all glittering international jewels that have had the privilege of hosting the G-8, and now add on Chicago. When President Barack Obama announced it and the NATO summit last summer I practically hyperventilated.

Sweet home Chicago, hosting the G-8! And our town would be the only American city beside Washington to host the NATO gathering. How cool is that?

Obviously, everyone doesn’t wait by their mailbox for the most recent edition of the Economist like I do, so I’m not surprised most others aren’t as excited. And we’re all wondering how much it’s going to cost taxpayers to keep the peace, while no one has really made the case for what we get in return.

“Though we know we are an international city, we’re still up against the perception the world has about Chicago being just all about Al Capone,” said Jennifer Martinez-Roth, a spokeswoman for the Chicago G-8/NATO Host Committee. “The value from the 2,500 international journalists alone is just amazing. Calculations for the economic benefits to Pittsburgh when they hosted the G-20 was $35 million in local spending and $100 million in advertising value.”

Jerry Roper, president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, said, “I ran the convention and tourism bureau for 9 years, and the benefits of hosting an event like this ripple all the way out into the neighborhoods, but that story is never told.” He explained that though money would be spent near the Loop, the paychecks for countless hospitality workers hired to put on this event would be spent across the city.

“From the thousands of attendees who land at O’Hare airport to every hotel room — which are all sold out — to every time anyone has a meal in a restaurant or goes shopping, you’re looking at that hitting our tax base,” Roper said. “It’s 15 percent on hotel rooms alone, and that’s a positive for all us who live in Illinois.”

He suggests that our neighborhoods need to start now to get their piece of the action, too.

“If we do this right, our ethnic neighborhoods will embrace reporters from around the world and tell the great story of how immigrants from Germany, Norway, Greece and Italy shaped Chicago,” he enthused. “The Little Village Chamber of Commerce should be reaching out to journalists from Mexico now to arrange to entertain them and help tell the story of Chicago’s Mexican-American community.”

So, will those last days in May be a major pain in the butt?

Yeah, they might. But they also have the potential to be truly lucrative for all of us.

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