Chicago preparing for next spring's G8 and NATO summit to overrun neighborhood
Global leaders force South Loop shift
11/02/2011 10:00 PM
UPDATE March 5, 2012: The G8 summit has been moved from Chicago to Maryland's Camp David, but the NATO summit is still set to be in Chicago. To read more, click here.
This summer, Mayor Rahm Emanuel talked his former boss, President Obama, into bringing two simultaneous meetings of the world’s most powerful politicians and military leaders to Chicago for the annual G8 and NATO summits.
Now, as the pieces are falling into place for next May’s event, the city and South Loop institutions are shuffling, adjusting and preparing for the crush of international dignitaries — and protestors — that are expected to descend upon the city.
While few logistical details are available yet for the conference, it’ll certainly occur May 15 through May 22 of 2012, and will likely center around locations in downtown and the Near South Side, including McCormick Place.
Last week at a city council budget hearing for the police department, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said the department is treating the Occupy Chicago protests as a bit of a dry run, and they’ve considered the way they’ve dealt with protestors so far to be a success.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police conference took place at the end of October, McCarthy said, and his colleagues from across the globe praised how Chicago cops dealt with the Occupy protestors.
“We spent a lot of time talking about how we’re handling it differently across the country. Those chiefs from across the globe came back to me and said, ‘I was standing with your officers, I was watching what they were doing, and you guys are … treating folks they way they should be treated,’” McCarthy said. “I’m very satisfied with the way we’ve handled it so far and I anticipate that’s going to continue.”
Going forward, McCarthy said the department is concentrating on training and obtaining equipment to deal with the G8/NATO summit and the protestors that are sure to come along with it.
Debra Kirby, the department’s Chief of International Relations, said the department is well underway in those efforts.
“I think the thing that will make this work for the city is that we have a lot of special events organization and know full well how to handle these events,” Kirby said. “What you’re seeing happening with Occupy Chicago is really just like an incubator for what this department will be able to do in 2012.”
How that extra work will be paid for isn’t clear yet, but Kirby said the Secret Service will be coordinating operations for the events. Right now, the department is trying to put 7,000 officers through a special training program to deal with the event. So far, they’ve trained 1,879 officers in either a one- or three-day information session, she said.
The South Loop’s biggest landowner, Columbia College, has shifted its spring semester around to avoid having end-of-year-activities at the same time as the summit. The school has moved the semester’s start date two weeks earlier, to Jan. 17, avoid having its end-of-year Manifest Urban Arts Festival and commencement ceremonies bump up against international dignitaries.
“We knew that it would be problematic to host Manifest at the end of the year, because getting permits and things probably wouldn’t be likely, and we like to celebrate our student work,” said Alicia Berg, Columbia’s vice president of campus environment. “It’s an important culmination.”
Initially, the school had debated cancelling spring break to compress the school year and keep things on track — obviously not a very popular idea with the students, Berg said. Columbia’s interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, Louise Love, said parents were a key concern, as well.
“Parents come in for graduation, and we thought the hotels would be all booked up. We just thought it would be very prudent,” Love said. “Because we got wind of it early, we were able to plan early, before people booked their travel plans. There’s been very little problem.”
Another South Loop institution, Roosevelt University, didn’t have to adjust its end-of-year plans but is pushing the start of its summer school back a week, according to spokesman Tom Karow.
“Fortunately, we were not scheduled to have anything that burdensome,” Karow said. “We’ll definitely continue to monitor it, and we’re going to work with the police department and city officials to make sure everybody is safe.”
Donna Adams, owner of Donna’s Café at 1255 S. State St., said that she’s confident the meeting will help her business. Protestors shouldn’t cause her much trouble, she thinks.
“I’m sure it will be a boon or a boost to my bottom line,” Adams said. “If these protestors are protesting a lack of solvency, then I would think that they would be respectful of small business owners.”
But as a retired Chicago cop, she has another perspective, too. Adams spent most of her time on the beat in Englewood, and there were special units that were dedicated to events like the summit back then. Since Emanuel and McCarthy came in earlier this year, however, many of those special unit officers have been farmed out to police districts.
“I can imagine that from a police standpoint, it’ll be a nightmare,” Adams said. “Now they’ve disbanded a lot of those specialized units, and that creates problems.”
Regardless, she thinks she’ll be ready.
“I’m sure there will be those fringe elements who will be there for the party of it all, but I personally don’t anticipate a problem because of my background and because of my experience,” Adams said. “I think I’ll be able to handle it.”