NATO Summit: Healey: City Is 'Open for Business' During Summit

Lori Healey Photo by AnnCatherine Brady

Lori Healey talks about plans for the upcoming NATO summit. (Photo by AnnCatherine Brady)

NATO LogoBy AnnCatherine Brady and Lauren Klopmeyer
The Red Line Project

Posted: Friday, April. 20, 2012

With the 2012 NATO summit only 4 1/2 weeks away, Lori Healey, the executive director of the Chicago NATO Host Committee, declared the city "open for business" as it also braces for protestors and addresses security concerns.

Speaking at a Niagara Foundation about the summit, Healey discussed the steps that the city is taking to make the summit a positive experience for delegates and Chicago residents alike. 

The summit will take place May 20-21 at McCormick Place, but there will be many events in the weeks leading up to it.

“It really is a terrific opportunity for the city to highlight its key attributes," she said. "You travel around the world, everyone knows New York, everyone knows LA, not everyone knows how great the city of Chicago is.” 

Healey said that despite the numerous events and visitors “Chicago is still open for business.” CTA and Metra trains will still run during the summit, and local businesses are not expected to be negatively impacted, she said.

Healey also downplayed any security concerns that Chicagoans may have. Officials and protest groups have estimated anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 protestors may descend on Grant Park and the rest of the city as early as May 1.

Audio: Lori Healey speaks about the upcoming summit's impact on the city. 

On Tuesday, the Illinois National Guard said it will help with security and transport for the 140-70 dignitary motorcades expected in the city the weekend of the summits.

“They do this all the time in New York when the UN leaders come in, they do it all the time in Washington (D.C.) [and] it's not a big deal," said Healey, who served as chief of staff for former Mayor Richard Daley and served as an executive for the city's 2016 Olympic bid. "It's going to be a very short time frame. It’s going to be a really great opportunity for the city.” 

Healey and the NATO host committee have planned multiple events around the city for students, tourists and residents. These city-wide events will give Chicagoans the ability to act as hosts for the visiting dignitaries, their staff and media.

Currently there are 28 member countries expected to attend, along with over 60 delegates. In addition there will be at least 2,000 members of the foreign press corps in the city that weekend.

Each event leading up to the summit has been designed with intent of getting Chicagoans involved and boosting awareness of the visiting countries. Many will be focused on Chicago youth. They will aim to educate Chicago children about some of the visiting countries in a fun environment.

The NATO committee, in association with World Sport Chicago, the Chicago Bulls and the Chicago Fire, has set up a basketball and soccer tournament with just that goal in mind. Kids ages 11-13 can register for a day of games where their teams will represent different countries in mock-Olympic fashion.  The tournament will take place on May 12.

“Kids who sign up to play for a country, lets just say they sign up to play for Turkey, we will work with the Turkish consulate, with the Turkish community, to really teach those kids about the country … expose them to issues of importance, expose them to food," Healey said. "So, they get a geopolitical interest as well as sports opportunity."

Healey’s committee has also reached out to public and private schools in Chicago for a creative video contest. Children have been asked to create three-minute welcome videos for the visiting delegates, suggesting things like what to see in the city.

Another youth-centered event will be the NATO sponsored Kids & Kites Festival, a nod to the cultural significances of kites in Afghanistan.  It will be held at Montrose Harbor on May 19.

On top of numerous community events, the Illinois Restaurant Association, in conjunction with the NATO host committee, is developing a list of restaurants to create a Chicago’s Culinary Crossroads dine-around. Over 100 restaurants across Chicago will be selected to feature international cuisines.

“As it was very apparent during our recent trip overseas, food in Chicago has surpassed architecture as the thing that everyone wants to talk about,” Healey said.

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