With more than two months remaining before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decides on which of the four eligible cities will host the 2016 games, members of the Chicago Olympic bid committee hosted a town hall Q&A for residents unsure whether the city should go for the gold.
Surrounded by enlarged posters illustrating the visual scope of the proposed Olympic Village, committee members spoke on a panel last Wednesday at the Columbus Park Refectory, 5701 W. Jackson.
"There are only upsides to bringing the games to Chicago," said Gyata Kimmons, director of community relations. "It will generate $22.5 billion in economic development for Illinois over an 11-year period, and create 315,000 full-time jobs in one year, not to mention the impact it will have on tourism and small business in the state."
Lori Healey, president of the committee, compared Chicago to previous Olympic locations that reaped the benefits of hosting the games.
"Prior to hosting the Olympics, Barcelona was a small town in Europe that many people did not even know about. But after it hosted the Olympics, and billions were able to take in the wonders of the city's architecture, it became one of the most popular tourist locales in the world," Healey said. "With 4 billion people watching, the games will showcase Chicago in the same way and raise its profile on an international level."
Nevertheless, there were plenty of residents in attendance who gave the plans low scores, arguing that the city has failed to prioritize.
"I work for the Chicago Public Schools and I think it's unfathomable how you all can rally behind the games coming to the city, but you can't even address the problems in the city, like violence and schools that are under-served," said Wanda Hopkins, an Austin resident. "Just the other day seven kids were killed in Austin. When are we going to deal with those issues?"
Healey responded by saying that the revenues generated by the Olympics will be a source of reinvestment back into under-served schools, noting that one program the city will create for hosting the Olympics is 2016's Urban Youth Sport Initiative. That program will provide athletic programs that can help prevent youth delinquency.
One aspect of the proposal that caused concern for some in attendance was the costliest item in the estimated $4.8 billion Olympics budget: the 3,000-unit housing complex that's expected to house the city's hundreds of visitors.
Residents wondered what will happen to those properties after the games have ended. Healey promised, "There are plans for those tenements after the games are over. They are expected to be converted into senior housing properties and college dormitory housing."
State Rep. Deborah Graham (78th), speaking in an unfamiliar role as a spectator at a town hall meeting, voiced her support for the bid, but challenged the panel to make sure that minority communities are not left.
"I just want to assure that while everyone else is taking their piece of the pie from this plan, you are taking an active role to ensure a fair disbursement of resources throughout the city for minority areas," she said.
Recently, Mayor Richard Daley provided a blanket guarantee to cover the operating shortfall in the 2016 Olympic budget. But that claim irked critics who don't believe the mayor will keep his word.
Ald. Manuel Flores (1st) has introduced an ordinance to cap the city's liability for losses at $500 million, a point argued by Wicker Park resident Joan Levin.
"The IOC was not born yesterday. They know that overruns happen all the time as they did in Vancouver and London [when they hosted the games]. Chicago is a city known for overruns and budget shortfalls," she said. "I think we should cap the liability as Ald. Flores has suggested. We can't just write them a blank check."
Chicago is competing against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to secure the games.
The IOC will announce its choice of host city on Oct. 2.