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Be Careful What You Wish For

By Kevin Robinson in Miscellaneous on Apr 16, 2007 6:00PM

2007_4_olympics.JPGThe city was abuzz Saturday afternoon with the news that Chicago has made the cut to be the US Olympic Committee’s choice to host the 2016 Olympics. It’s not a done deal yet; the International Olympic Committee still has to choose a final site for the Games, but this latest adventure from Mayor Daley has certainly changed the equation.

In bars and coffee shops, around dinner tables and water coolers, and yes, even here in the murky internets, there has been much debate about what hosting the Olympics would mean to Chicago. There is no question that the profile of our city has already been raised around the world by Chicago’s mere presence in the running. As the City by the Lake has evolved itself from Hog Butcher to the World to a Global City, it seems that our image hasn’t changed along with us. Lots of people the world over only know Chicago as home to Michael Jordan and Al Capone, and New Yorkers and Los Angelinos still regard our town as a layover on their way from one coast to another. Using the Games as a platform to highlight what this city really is must be very alluring to many of us.

Now that we’re in the running against the rest of the world, some careful questions need to be considered before we're convinced that hosting this event will actually be good for Chicago. As we pointed out previously, empirical evidence and economic analysis clearly demonstrate that events like the Olympics are a much larger drain on the local economy than advertised. Multiply that by the history of mismanagement, corruption, and the fiascos that come with large infrastructure projects in this city (O’Hare? CTA?), and it’s pretty clear that the risk is high for cost overruns and shell games with public funds. Very serious questions still are unanswered: what happens to Washington Park when we try to build a temporary stadium there? Do residents of that community have to give up their park for several years? Where will the money to fix the CTA come from? What happens when the costs for all the construction run over budget, and the projects are behind schedule? Is it really fair to tell Chicagoans that we have to wait nearly a decade for transit improvements and affordable housing?

We aren't sure whether Mayor Daley understands what he has got the rest of us into. Besides Patrick Fitzgerald, the rest of the world will be looking at what he does and how the city operates. After years of being able to do pretty much whatever he wants, without having to answer to anyone, Daley has put Chicago under the microscope. We hope that the USOC makes sure to have tight control of this bid, and that should Chicago win the Games, building the infrastructure is done transparently and with strong mechanisms for accountability. Anything less would be an insult to the citizens of Chicago.

Image via Time Out Chicago.