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No Games Chicago Update
43 Days To Decision
Daily News

August 19, 2009
The People Speak

We have the highest taxes in the nation!
Gentrification is rampant! Our public schools are a disgrace!
Few inches of rain and our streets flood! Public transportation is poor! And yet we have funds to host the Olympics.


Maria Depp

Signer of
No Games
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Open letter
to the IOC
"Why you don't want to give the Olympics to Chicago"

Dear Member of the International Olympic Committee:  

The Chicago Tribune is a conservative leaning newspaper owned by a billionaire real estate developer. It's been a consistent booster of the 2016 bid. But lately even it can't turn a blind eye to the deficiencies of the Chicago bid and the arrogance of its sponsors.

The advice the editors of the Chicago Tribune is offering the 2016 Committee will most likely be ignored. Meanwhile, Chicago's citizens are not as patient and trusting as the Tribune editors seem to be. They are showing up angry and very skeptical at the 2016 community meetings.

Olympic candor

August 19, 2009

Barely six weeks from now, the International Olympic Committee will select a city to host the 2016 Summer Games. Chicago's organizers, from Mayor Richard Daley on down, are a committed lot. On the streets, in workplaces and over kitchen tables, though, many citizens remain ambivalent. Would an Olympiad net out as a plus for this city -- or as a sinkhole of taxpayer debt?

Before Chicago organizers close their sale to the IOC, they need to close their sale to Chicagoans. The best way to do that is to shower Chicago in all of the financing details -- and to create a rock-solid protocol for sharing future information with citizens as well. That isn't too much to ask, given that there will be no Chicago Olympics unless the City Council obligates taxpayers to an open financial guarantee that the games will succeed. The city has already provided a $500 million guarantee; the state has committed to $250 million in the event the Games lose money.

With each new guarantee of public financing, the Chicago effort to land the Games becomes an increasingly public endeavor. We second Tribune business columnist David Greising's proposal to give citizens their own guarantee, a guarantee of openness: "The City Council, before granting the unlimited financial guarantee, should demand that Chicago 2016 agree to honor requests for information, following the same openness guidelines as described in Illinois' freedom of information law. The committee should appoint a freedom-of-information officer, answerable to the City Council and responsible for complying with information requests, as government offices do. ... Openness should be the price of putting taxpayers on the hook for the 2016 Games."

That proposal builds on a precedent: Earlier this year, responding to public suspicions, Chicago's bid committee agreed to community demands for openness in awarding of Olympic contracts. Recent events have only reinforced the need for a culture of full disclosure:

--The Tribune reported Aug. 7 that a member of Daley's team working to land the Olympics was involved in plans to develop city-owned land near a park that would be a 2016 Olympic venue. Developer Michael Scott Sr., who serves as president of the Chicago Board of Education, now is severing his ties to the potentially quite profitable project. But the disclosure dovetailed with public suspicions that a 2016 Olympics would be a honey pot for political insiders.

--That news followed word that Chicago 2016 had delayed the filing of Internal Revenue Service documents on the financing of the Games until after the IOC announces its choice of a site. The committee says the City Council will have all of that information and more. So why not file the documents with the IRS before Oct. 2?

--The Tribune reported that street and sewer costs associated with the proposed Olympic Village would add $100 million to the cost, bringing the total to $1.18 billion. Does anyone think that surprise is the last?

Aldermen and citizens need to be confident that the Games will come off without the city taking a bath. Because if and when Daley signs an agreement in Copenhagen guaranteeing that Chicago will deliver the Olympics -- no matter the cost -- those aldermen and citizens will be sitting in the tub.

Our advice to Chicago 2016 head Pat Ryan as he tries to sell an Olympics to Chicago: Be candid. Be specific. Don't sugarcoat risk. And focus on the following:

Taxpayers' risk

This is the big question. Can the city be reasonably assured that the games can be staged without taking a big loss? You keep saying that every Olympics since 1972 has made money. Explain in detail why this is so -- and why Chicago's plans are solid.

Is it whom you know?

Underlying a lot of the public's uneasiness is the suspicion that contracts and jobs will go to the "connected" few, and everyone else will be left out in the cold. Lay out in detail your policies for keeping clout and other illicit influences out of the action.

About that insurance policy

Tell us as much as you can about the $500 million of private insurance you're working to arrange, and why you are confident it will insulate taxpayers from further liability. How will the insurance be structured? When would it kick in? Who's underwriting that risk? How much will it cost? Who resolves disputed claims? So far, there are no details.

It takes a village

Vancouver's 2010 Olympics got into trouble because the city awarded the Olympic Village contract to a single developer, which used a single lender, and they bet the ballgame on luxury condos just when the real estate bust hit. Village construction stalled and the city had to step up. Chicago proposes a village of 21 12-story buildings erected by multiple developers and multiple lenders, and a post-Olympic plan for a mixed-income residential and retail complex. So it won't rely on a single developer or lender. That's good, but more information on who is interested in participating would help assure Chicagoans they won't play the role of Vancouver in some future meltdown.

There are venues and there are venues

London's 2012 Games are way over budget. Explain why: London has to build 63 percent of its venues. Its games were always designed to boost the downtrodden East End; pollution remediation and European value-added taxes have made costs skyrocket. Chicago needs to build only five of 27 venues. It doesn't have to redevelop an entire swath of the city. It also doesn't have to build airports, train lines, subways or roads. Explain why you think McCormick Place is Chicago's "secret weapon": It exists; it's huge and it can host concurrent events.

The rosy scenario

At the City Council's insistence, Chicago 2016's $4.8 billion budget is being independently scrubbed by a London-based consulting firm hired by the Civic Federation. That neutral analysis of Chicago 2016's budget, revenue and cost projections -- and that additional insurance policy -- could go a long way toward reassuring Chicagoans.

Finally: freedom of information

Mr. Ryan, you and yours would do yourselves a great favor by voluntarily making your committee, and the successor Chicago Organizing Committee, subject to the provisions of Illinois' freedom-of-information law. That would allay the fear that, once you have the City Council on board, Chicago citizens will lose their leverage to protect the huge commitment you're asking of them.