Can Chicago Survive Without Oprah?

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Oprah is as inextricably linked with the Chicago landscape as the Sears Tower. Thus her recent announcement of discontinuing "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2011 has caused quite the stir in the Windy City. Beyond fears of life without their daily dose of Oprah, many Chicagoans are concerned about how this decision will affect the city's economy.
The reviews are mixed when it comes to how, or even if, Oprah's latest move will impact Chicago. There's no denying that Harpo Studios' presence single-handedly revamped the once desolate and rundown West Loop neighborhood in which it stands. The bustling neighborhood is now home to posh condominiums and handsome townhouses, as well a growing number of shops and restaurants. But while the media maven has stressed her plans to keep Chicago's Harpo Studios open and fully functional even after the show ends, many worry that the neighborhood will fall into decline once Oprah ceases to be a daily presence.

Genie Birch, president of the Chicago Association of Realtors, says those fears are unfounded. She points out that Oprah currently spends only half of the year at the studio, so it won't make much difference to the neighborhood if she's there even less.

"The neighborhood is a thriving one," Birch said. "Oprah had the vision to go there first, which is commendable and we thank her for being a pioneer. But the truth of the matter is the neighborhood will continue to be what it is. It has an incredible, well-known and thriving arts district. There are a lot of small businesses and you have H2O's headquarters there as well; so there's a lot going on."

When it comes to residential properties in the area, Birch predicts interest in the neighborhood will persist long after the mogul makes her expected exit to sunny California.

"The diversity of the businesses in the neighborhood is [why it will continue] to thrive," said Birch. "Between businesses moving into the neighborhood and people establishing it as a residential community, you're always going to have two groups. You'll have the people who live in the area because they own the businesses, and you'll have the people who moved into the neighborhood, and who'll continue to visit and support those businesses -- so the neighborhood is very well-established."
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