Dear Member of the
International Olympic Committee:
The 2016 Committee continues to meet with community members. The more they meet, the angrier the community residents get.
Olympic Committee meets a skeptical local community
By Dan Kolen | The Gazette - August 2009
Reaching out to local residents, the Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee
visited Marshall High School's auditorium on the West Side on July 14
in a meeting to discuss how the Olympics would affect communities if
the City wins the Olympic bid.
The Olympics would provide an indoor track located in Douglass Park
on the West Side, an Olympic Village in Bronzeville that would be
transformed after the games into housing (around 30% affordable), and a
"direct surplus to the City's budget," committee members claimed.
Many people who attended the meeting expressed concern about the
Olympics, despite committee members' rosy view. "They didn't answer the
questions, plain and simple," said Maurice Robinson. "With the Olympics
being here, the issues that are ahead of us - and thereare so many
problems already - it's hard to imagine what's going to happen."
Concerning public transportation, the committee announced officials
would arrange an additional bus system specifically for the people
going to the games; no parking would be permitted around the games'
sites. Federal aid the City expects to get for transportation would
"help immensely" to "permanently improve" the City's transportation
infrastructure, according to committee members.
"Both Atlanta and Salt Lake City benefited very significantly from
federal transportation projects in their cities, so they would be ready
for the games," said Doug Arnot, the committee's director of venues and
games operations. "The existing system was improved in time for the
games" and had a lasting impact, he noted.
Stephanie Patton, now a Chicago resident, lived in Atlanta in the
lead-up to the 1996 games and said Atlanta did see a positive,
permanent change in the infrastructure. For example, she noted, express
lanes of certain thoroughfares were increased from three to five,
although traffic still was massive.
"What happened was, though, during heavy traffic, the people of the
city had to learn those back roads" during the games, she said. The
1996 Atlanta Olympics were held in a city growing and expanding, but
Chicago is an already built-up city, with public transit plagued by
frequent delays, fare hikes, and threats of service cuts. The comments
by the committee therefore did not help calm the concerns many
residents had about the permanent impact the games would have on public
"You certainly have your work cut out for you," Lee Ford, a Garfield
Park resident, said to Arnot, who expressed a negative view of "the
public transportation access and the public transportation system in
the City of Chicago."
On June 17, Mayor Richard M. Daley signed a contract with the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) saying the City will take on
full, unlimited financial liability for "planning, organization, and
staging" the Olympics. The contract and issues pertaining to funding
the games drew criticism from several attendees.
The IOC is "in bed with Mayor Daley." Patton said. "If we get the
Olympics, it's going to be a travesty for Chicago. I feel strongly that
with Mayor Daley's leadership we're going to have to go deep into our
The committee members remained adamant that no taxpayer dollars
would be used and that the City has not had to pay so far for planning
the games. Despite the contract, the City "will not pay a dime for the
games," committee members asserted.
"No games since 1972 have lost money; all have turned a surplus,"
said Lori Healey, president of the committee. "We also have additional
insurance protection so we can cover costs on projects."
Huge price tags are associated with many of the proposed structures:
Olympic Village would cost $1 billion, a stadium in Washington Park
just under $400 million, and the Douglass Park facility that would be
converted into a permanent track and field center after the games would
cost $37.1 million. The games' total cost is estimated at around $4.8
To cover such massive costs, the City would receive more than one
billion dollars from television rights, with private financiers paying
the rest, committee members said.
"No taxpayer dollars are included in the budget," Healey said.
"We're 100% privately financed. In fact, we expect to turn a $450
From reduced ticket prices for Chicago residents, to favorable
vendor deals for locals, to World Sport Chicago's (WSC) sports program
for kids in Chicago, the committee outlined direct, positive effects of
the Olympics for the community.
"It's our commitment that World Sport Chicago grows and continues to
grow," Arnot said about the program that already has enrolled 30,000 of
the 300,000 kids in Chicago Public Schools. The committee showed a
short documentary during the meeting to highlight a gymnastics class
for WSC. Those attending responded with skepticism about how much the
program and committee really wanted to help the city.
"We had never heard of World Sport Chicago until today," Patton
said. "And with the games, we're going to be made to feel like guests
or prisoners in our own backyards."
Some in attendance voiced support for the games, however.
"I think the Olympics are going to be a great thing for the city,"
said local resident Walter Fiedler. "The things that are going to
happen are already under way, but it is a way for the people to know
what is expected and what it's going to mean for us."
Healey said that, with WSC and the new infrastructure, the games
will "help us provide something new to the neighborhoods. There will be
a lasting impact in the neighborhoods."
She also stressed the importance of the residents' support.
"We need to show that the people of Chicago are passionate about
sports, about bringing the games to the city," Healey said. "With your
support, we can really transform this city."
Some at the meeting were not keen on lending their support, however.
Patton said, "While you're advocating for support for the Olympics,
advocate to get our children educated."