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NATO/G8 Summit Organizers Seek To Downplay Protest Concerns

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Lori Healey, executive director of the host committee for the upcoming NATO and G8 summits in Chicago, seeks to downplay concerns about protests during the international events in May. (Credit: CBS)

Lori Healey, executive director of the host committee for the upcoming NATO and G8 summits in Chicago, seeks to downplay concerns about protests during the international events in May. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED: 1/25/2012 – 4:28 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — The host committee for the upcoming NATO and G8 summits offered a sneak peak Wednesday of the city’s push to capitalize on the dual summits in May.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports the event focused almost entirely on the rewards of the two summits, rather than the potential risk of what’s traditionally been a trouble-plagued event during previous similar summits.

Comprehensive, aggressive, innovative security measures are being planned for May’s summits at McCormick Place, but it’s clear city officials feel the risk of violent demonstrations during the summits has been overstated.

The chief planner of the summits virtually snapped at reporters who asked about that risk on Wednesday.

Lori Healey, executive director of the host committee – formally dubbed Chicago 2012: The Global Crossroads – said, “This is important in the face that we put on to the world and all the focus on negativity is … unproductive and just, you know, not a good way to focus our energies at this point.”

It was the elephant in the room during an otherwise upbeat briefing on the potential benefits to Chicago the two summits.

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

Welch said Chicago currently ranks a disappointing 10th among U.S. cities in international visitors, who have an average economic impact of $4,000 each.

“I think 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,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday.

Summit organizers tried to counter the “negativity” of fears of violent protests by touting plans to promote the city’s theaters, restaurants and other attractions during the summits.

Organizers revealed that they expect about 15,000 international visitors for the summits and plan to offer them special neighborhood tours, theater packages, and restaurant tastings and pairings.

There also will be international-themed soccer and basketball tournaments, a “welcome” video contest for Chicago Public Schools students, an international cooking program for CPS students, and a youth summit.

But when questions turned to the possibility that demonstrators could outnumber summit guests, those in charge of Chicago’s warm welcome turned downright chilly.

“You guys are the ones that focus on the protestors, not us,” Healey said.

She also tried to downplay concerns expressed by Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President & CEO, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that stores along State Street in the Loop and Michigan Avenue on the Magnificent Mile should prepare for the worst should protests turn violent.

Roper suggested State Street and Michigan Avenue businesses should post 24-hour security outside their doors during the summits and have board-up services “on standby” should protesters shatter windows.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports

Healey said she believed Roper’s comments might have been “misconstrued” and said State Street and Michigan Avenue businesses are excited about the opportunities the summits could present.

“Everybody’s working on this to ensure that Chicago’s open for business; that the citizens and the businesses and the organizations continue to operate with minimal impact,” Healey said.

The irony here is that Roper, who might be the biggest Chicago booster whose last name isn’t Daley, is scheduled to receive an award from the Emanuel Wednesday night for helping beautify the city’s parkways and expressways.

Last week, the City Council overwhelmingly approved a plan to approve tighter security rules for protests against the summits.

But before that, Mayor Rahm Emanuel eliminated some proposals that would have increased fines on demonstrators for resisting arrest or obstructing a police officer. He also agreed to remove the measure protesters found most objectionable – significantly higher fines for resisting arrest.

City Hall also modified the mayor’s proposals to tighten restrictions on parades and public demonstrations.

Council members had been briefed by top police brass on preparations for the summits, estimating about 10,000 protesters for the summits.

But Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields disagreed with that estimate, and said officers who have gone through a training program for the summits are expecting 40,000 people.

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