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Will hosting the G8 summit really benefit Chicago?

When the National Restaurant Show moved its show dates up to two weeks earlier on May 5-8, those of us in the tradeshow industry in Chicago experienced an audible a sigh of relief. The reason for the change was to avoid conflicts with the upcoming G8 summit scheduled to take place here from May 19-21. The G8 summit is a meeting of eight of the largest economies in the world. I can’t find out exactly what they do at these meetings. Every account describing their agenda suggests lofty and ambiguous goals; perhaps they have meetings where they determine if more meetings need to be held.

There was great concern in the tradeshow community that this conference would have resulted in the NRA’s annual show relocating to another city. The Restaurant Show has been located in Chicago since 1950 and brings in over $100 million each year to the city. Losing a show of this magnitude during these difficult economic times, (or any economic times for that matter) would have been catastrophic for Chicago. I’m sure the city to which they relocated would have done anything in their power to retain this economic powerhouse in the tradeshow business. They certainly wouldn’t have allowed a three-day event to chase away such a lucrative event.

In addition, city residents have expressed concern that in return for the ego boost of having the eyes of the world upon Chicago, the costs to city taxpayer would have outweighed any benefits. Costs for hosting this event range from $40-$65 million, which event organizers claim will be paid for by private donors and federal funds, although there is no guarantee.

Chicago, like many other large cities, is experiencing a severe budget crunch, and many programs which directly impact the lives of ordinary residents have been cut. These residents ask why this event can be funded, but neighborhood libraries, for example, are closed one day a week because of a lack of funding.

In addition, the nightmare of the traffic congestion brought about by heightened security concerns has many city residents wary of the overall advantages of this conference. Furthermore, the city council overwhelmingly passed an ordinance that severely restricts the ability of protestors to exercise their constitutional right of organized dissent. Many observers claim this is just another in a series of attacks against the First Amendment rights of ordinary citizens. This is the type of repressive assault on individual freedom we used to criticize in the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War.

The concerns I personally have for this event are basically the same ones I had when the city made a bid to host the Olympics. Mainly, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits for the average citizen. Event organizers often tout inflated and unsubstantiated selling points while dismissing rational concerns as being negative, pessimistic and lacking vision. Usually those who are enthusiastically promoting these projects are those who stand to profit from this type of event, and those accused of knee jerk opposition are those who will be forced pay the bills if these projections prove to be irrational optimism.

I’m very supportive about events that will showcase the city I live in. I’m a firm believer in making the effort necessary to foster economic benefits for our city. But we also have to be careful that we don’t fall victim to an idealistic vision of something that has very real question marks. I’m willing to put up with the logistical inconveniences that result from this type of event, in order for the greater good of a truly world class city. They say this will showcase the city in a positive light and show the whole world all the assets our city has to offer. But I wonder, can you name the last city that hosted this event?

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