Update: A reader has helped me with a name that slipped my own mind originally and I want to update the piece.
Tonight, I attended the forum on the proposed 2016 Olympic bid in Chicago. The event was held at the Center on Halsted in the Lake View area of Chicago. (the neighborhood I live in) Both sides were represented. Four representatives of 2016 Chicago represented those trying to bring the games here. Meanwhile, the opposition was represented by Tom Tresser of No Games Chicago. Erma Tranter, President of Friends of the Parks, presented her group's view of the potential impact of the games on our parks and greenery.
First, each of the three sides took fifteen minutes for a fifteen minute power point presentation. Former Olympic wrestler, Jim Scherr, represented the folks supporting the 2016 bid first made an economic argument. he said that the bid would bring in $2.2 billion in revenues for the city and businesses in the area. It would create 315,000. The bid would NOT cost the tax payers one single dime. All of it would be financed through private financing. They said that the games in Los Angeles in 1984, Atlanta in 1996, and Salt Lake City in 2002 all didn't cost the tax payers any money.
He then played a video which featured a dozen young athletes. He talked about the unique experience that the Olympics would provide and the inspiration it would bring to tens of thousands of inner city youths.
Next, the lady representing concerned citizens for parks and recreation spoke. Her main concern was regarding Washington Park. The park was built and designed by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who also designed such landmarks as Central Park. Washington Park would be home to the temporary 80,000 some seat stadium that would host the opening and closing of the games. Washington Park currently hosts all sorts of sports leagues like baseball, soccer, lacrosse, and even cricket leagues. It's in a relatively poor area of the South Side of Chicago, and is among the most significant landmarks in the area. This TEMPORARY stadium would damage the park in a very permanent and significant way. This beautiful park would likely be left to something bland and even ugly. Other parks that would face significant disruption would be Jackson Park and Garfield Park. On the other hand, Grant Park would face no permanent disruption at all. Lincoln Park would face a small disruption to an area designed for the birds. To no one's surprise, the first three parks are in poor areas while the two that won't have any serious permanent damage are in wealthy areas.
Tom Tresser's message was very clear. The folks running this bid, Richard Daley and co., are corrupt and incompetent. Their numbers are NOT to be trusted. For instance, the study that claimed that more than $2 billion would be created and 300k plus jobs with it was sponsored and paid for by the bid. He pointed out that the Montreal games in 1976 were 11.9 times over budget, Salt Lake City games ran 2.5 times over budget, the Athens games were 2.4 times over budget, the Turin games in 2006 wre 1.7 times over budget, the Beijing games cost $40 billion (with no known original cost estimate), the Vancouver games in 2010 are already 10 times the original budget, the London games in 2012 are already 3.7 times the budget.
There is also major controversy over Michael Reese Hospital. That land will be used for the Olympic Village. Then, it will be sold. So, those from the 2016 bid say that the city won't lose money on the deal. Meanwhile, Tresser said that the budget can't be trusted because the $86 million expense isn't in the budget for the games. It was also pointed out that the Los Angeles games used all the existing stadiums in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Chicago would be building several new stadiums including the massive 80k plus stadium that would be torn down immediately following the games.
The issue of TIF's (Tax Increment Funds) also became a point of contention. This is essentially a tax accounting trick. What happens with a TIF is that property taxes are capped at a certain amount. Then, any tax money over that goes into a slush fund. So, for example let's say the tax in a condo building are capped at $2000. What this means is that up to $2000 goes to local schools, garbage clean up, etc. The rest goes into a slush fund for the mayor to spend in whatever way he wants. Tresser believes his group has already found $1 billion in TIFs earmarked for the games.
Ultimately, this debate comes down to credibility. All sides presented strong arguments. There's no doubt that if the games are built and produced efficiently that this will be a boon for the city not only in terms of tourism and entertainment but in income. At the same time, opponents are right. If the games are run in the same corrupt manner that the city has been run for a decade and more, it won't come in within the budget restraints. Furthermore, the citizens won't likely know that things will go over budget. They likely won't even know that taxes will be raised to pay for it. These TIFs are difficult to follow. Funds are comingled. Taxes would be raised will in advance of the Olympics. No one would ever claim they were raised for the Olympics specifically. Furthermore, the taxes would likely be property taxes which are very easy to manipulate.
My own personal opinion is that if this is a matter of credibility then we must all say no. To say yes to the Daley administration yet again despite all that we know. In fact, Tresser, on at least five occasions, referrred to Daley by the moniker corrupt. No one supporting the bid ever challenged this characterization. Instead, their defense was that the bid was a private non profit effort that is separate from the mayor's office. The bid is being lead by Lori Healy, who took over the bid following a stint as the mayor's Chief of Staff. The only thing more ludicrous than the idea that Daley won't be running this operation is the idea that he isn't corrupt.
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