Chicago’s NATO costs still being tabulated

By Jayette Bolinski and Stephanie Fryer
Illinois Statehouse News

CHICAGO — It’s been more than a month since Chicago hosted the international NATO Summit and its accompanying protesters, but details continue to trickle out about the cost of hosting the two-day event.

Meanwhile, businesses downtown and near McCormick Place — the site of the event — have mixed feelings about how the city handled it.

The 2012 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Chicago, which brought together high-level heads of state to discuss government alliances, technically occurred May 20-21. But some costs, such as security, were incurred in the days leading up to the event. Washington, D.C., is the only other American city to host the summit.

The Ohio House Motel on North La Salle Street, just north of where much of the NATO activity happened, saw a drop in its leisure market — Friday and Saturday guests — that weekend, according to General Manager Larry James.

Usually on the weekends we sell out. All 50 of my rooms would have been sold on a normal weekend,” he said, noting that he lost probably $500 to $1,000 a night during the weekend of the summit.

Business is back to normal, though, James said, adding that he would support Chicago hosting the summit again.

After seeing how (the World Trade Organization meeting) was handled in Seattle and the ’68 Democratic Convention (in Chicago), I thought it was handled wonderfully,” he said. “A lot of people who came to Chicago that weekend didn’t have the chance to see the whole city. I think some will try to come back again.”

Chicago officials estimate the cost of hosting the event at $55 million, although they say that will be covered by a combination of federal money and private donations. A nonprofit “host committee” — the Chicago NATO Host Committee — was established to handle much of the planning and organization.

The host committee reportedly is compiling the costs, though it’s unclear when the committee’s analysis may be released.

Some of those costs that have been reported include the following:

About 3,100 city of Chicago police officers were assigned to NATO duty and incurred overtime. The dollar amount due to the officers has not been disclosed, and the Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents the officers, has been negotiating with city officials. The city has said it expects a federal grant will cover security costs associated with the summit.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency sent some representatives to Chicago to be available for an emergency. The workers stayed at the College of Du Page in Glen Ellyn for four days, and the cost was minimal — about $13,600 — according to agency spokesman Patti Thompson.

This is pretty much within our natural role — preparing for potential emergencies,” Thompson said. “This was a good thing because nothing happened. But if it had, we would have had personnel that would not have been far away that would have been our quick responders.”

The host committee paid $5.8 million for insurance coverage for 46 days leading up to, and after, the summit. According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, the insurance through Lloyd’s of London included a $1.3 million premium for up to $100 million in terrorism coverage, as well as coverage for more minor occurrences, such as automobile damage, medical coverage and more.

The Chicago Metra, the city’s commuter rail system, reported a cost of about $800,000, which included added security expenses, such as bomb-sniffing dogs, as well as the cost of lost revenue from commuters who found others means of transportation during the summit.

The Evanston Police Department had about $117,000 in overtime and other expenses, for which officials there reportedly will seek reimbursement. It is unclear how many other suburban police departments had expenses associated with the summit.

Chicago Parking Meters LLC, which maintains parking meters in the city, reported $65,000 in lost revenue because of street closures and parking restrictions.

It is unclear if Chicago’s hotel occupancy was affected during the summit. State-compiled figures on sales taxes and hotel taxes won’t be available until later this summer.

Matt Scannell, who works at Wing Stop on Harrison Street, said business at the restaurant didn’t change much during the NATO summit, noting that the hot weather also could have been a factor in any loss of customers. The staff was prepared for a potential influx of business.

Sunday was the day (the protesters) did the marching, and they marched right by our store. I was told we had a lot of people buying bottles of water and drinks,” Scannell said. “It didn’t really hurt or help the business out. Sunday was a little slower since they had streets blocked off right in front of our store.”

Scannell said he thought the city adequately was prepared for the NATO protesters and said he would support hosting another summit. He said he was glad it was on a weekend.

Everything was kept to a minimum. We didn’t have any problems, and we were all worried about the marching, with everyone dispersing and going off in groups in different directions,” he said. “We pretty much spent the day watching people come in and out.”

Eric Swanson, owner of Swanson Bows — a shop that specializes in repairing bows for musical instruments in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue — said his business was closed for four days because the whole building was closed — closed and boarded-up, actually — for NATO. He said his wife, who is involved with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, also was affected because the group could not play in Symphony Hall. Youth symphonies that meet in the building on weekends also were affected.

If you think about it, the whole cultural, artistic side of the city was shut down,” Swanson said. “You would think that is something that NATO members and others participating (in the summit) might have wanted to see.”

Swanson said he found it odd that officials decided to shut down parts of the city for the summit, noting that thousands of people flooded downtown Chicago and Grant Park when Barack Obama was elected president and nothing was closed down then.

Chicago is totally capable of handling a summit like this. It is interesting that it came to Chicago, but there is no need to shut everything down like that. It is almost un-American. It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “(Chicago Mayor) Rahm Emanuel played it up as a big gain for Chicago businesses, like hotels and restaurants, but this city is really made up of small businessmen, and it really wasn’t a good idea for people like me.”

Jayette Bolinski can be reached at

Posted June 28, 2012

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