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Chicago 2016 meets with Grant Park residents, hears concerns

April 2, 2009 – Representatives from Chicago 2016 met with Grant Park residents to explain the impact of the games on their neighborhood and address the community’s concerns Tuesday night.

The Grant Park Advisory Council (GPAC) and the Grant Park Conservancy hosted the meeting for members of Chicago 2016 to explain their proposal to residents, mainly focusing on the plans for Grant Park and Northerly Island.

“We want to give information about the Olympics and its impact and legacy on Grant Park and Northerly Island and give information to the public as much as possible,” said GPAC President Bob O’Neill.

The Grant Park, Northerly Island and downtown lakefront settings are the proposed sites for seven different venues to host a variety of Olympic events. Ranging from Monroe Harbor to Soldier Field, McCormick Place to Buckingham Fountain, these locations would serve as hosts for kayaking, the marathon, gymnastics and many more.

The number of visitors projected to attend the events downtown may seem extreme for the average Chicago neighborhood with the high end at approximately 53,000. However, it would just be another day in the park for area residents – literally – who see higher numbers during football season and peak vacation months.

“There’s an annual history that these numbers can and have been accommodated in Grant Park,” said Chicago 2016’s Director of Neighborhood Legacy Arnold Randall.

While many of the venues are pre-existing, some major construction has been proposed in the bid book, especially for Monroe Harbor. The plan is to create a new breakwater, a barrier that protects the harbor, which would replace the existing one.

“It needs the change in breakwater because of regulations to control waves for events,” Randall explained.

The new breakwater, stretching from Randolph St. to the Shedd Aquarium would offer a view of the downtown skyline to pedestrians, which is usually reserved for boaters. Construction for the new breakwater would begin in 2013 and residents would have consistent access to the harbor throughout the process.

Randall also highlighted one of Chicago 2016’s “legacy projects” in his presentation – the whitewater slalom course at Northerly Island.

The slalom course would replicate a whitewater rafting experience, bringing the great outdoors to the big city. After it is used in the capacity of the Olympic games, it would remain to provide rock climbing and whitewater rafting adventures to Chicago residents.

“It needs to fit into the landscape,” said Randall, ensuring residents that the design would compliment the surrounding area.

In addition to the whitewater slalom, Northerly Island is the proposed site for beach volleyball and sailing. Currently, the man-made island is the current home of the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which has some residents concerned.

A volunteer with the animal hospital, Maddy Fields-Gollogly inquired as to whether the facility would be disrupted due to the games. Fortunately, Randall was able to assure her that birds and other wildlife would be able to continue receiving treatment without any disturbances.

Gollogly is also a Grant Park resident and in addition to the displacement of injured animals, was concerned about possible interruptions for residents of a number of Randolph St. condos. One of the main streets that access the lakefront, Randolph St. is the proposed ticketed visitor entrance for events at Monroe Harbor.

“There’s a whole plan to make sure that people who live here, and their guests, get to their homes. The goal is to really protect local residents from being inundated by tens of thousands of visitors,” said Randall.

“We forgot to mention that you’ll all be locked out of your houses for a year!” joked O’Neill.

Peggy Brennan presented a mathematical discrepancy to Randall and O’Neill about the displacement of boats at DuSable and Monroe Harbor. Originally, an additional marina was planned for 31st St. but is no longer included in the bid book.

“So we have 1,600 boats but only 230 planned slips and now I don’t see that 830 slip marina anywhere in this plan anymore,” said Brennan.

The park district has made a commitment that boaters who want to remain in the system for the season will have a place to go, although it may be less convenient than the harbors right downtown, according to Randall.

In anticipation of the first of several visits from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) right around the corner, the Grant Park residents overwhelming support for the games must have been a relief for Chicago 2016.

“We’re the first city being visited and we’re going to put our best foot forward,” said Randall.

The IOC will make their final choice for the 2016 Summer Olympics host city on Oct. 2 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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