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Olympics Road Show Makes Stop In Rogers Park

By James Ginderske of The Urban Coaster

2016 Bid Committee Chair Lori Healey. Photo by: James Ginderske
2016 Bid Committee Chair Lori Healey. Photo by James Ginderske

The Chicago 2016 committee gave a presentation at the 49th ward selected location of the Rogers Park library on August 5 revealing little in the way of new information while conveying a local version of their city-wide effort to market the bid to Chicago neighborhoods.

In a 45-minute presentation Bid Committee Chair Lori Healey, along with several members of the 2016 committee, laid out their vision for bringing the games to Chicago. Featured prominently were both Paralympic and Olympic former competitors, each giving passionate personal testimony about the meaning and spirit of the Games.

In terms of details, the presentation laid out several anticipated benefits to the City they said could make the Games an economic boon for currently cash-strapped Chicago. They included an estimated 315,000 jobs, which they claimed would generate over $7 billion in wages.

Healey made the point repeatedly that organized labor is in favor of the project, along with many in Chicago’s business community.

Healey also claimed that while $750 million in guarantees had been pledged to the International Olympic Committee by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, the games represent a “zero risk opportunity for the people of Chicago.”

This seeming contradiction was seized upon by several in the audience, who demanded more information. One questioner pointedly stated that he wanted a more thorough accounting of the process “instead of just being told, -‘Trust us.’”

The Bid Committee then explained the arrangement recently made with the non-profit policy analyst firm The Civic Federation to audit the bid committee’s financial predictions. They reported The Civic Federation has agreed to complete this work and release their results by early September.

A crowded Rogers Park Library. Photo by James Ginderske
A crowded Rogers Park Library. Photo by James Ginderske

Many attendees were openly skeptical of the City’s ability to truthfully explain all of the potential risks associated with the bid. People cited the parking meter fiasco, the UIC subsidized-housing scandal, and various general contract and bidding concerns as justification for wondering aloud if the City can actually follow through on its promises.

Also discussed was the “World Sports 2016” program, meant to make funding available for neighborhood sports programs for youth. Healey stated that more funds for this program were due to be available soon, and that the limiting factor to disbursing them to the neighborhoods were commitments from volunteer coaches to manage the programs.

The presenters were unable to answer how much, if any of the current fund had been distributed to the Rogers Park or Edgewater communities. In response to a question about the relocation of the boats from Monroe Harbor, where the rowing events are planned, the committee suggested that they could be moved to new South Side Chicago Park District harbors that are already planned.

They denied knowledge of any plans to place the boats in harbors in the Rogers Park or Edgewater communities,

but did not categorically rule out the possibility such plans might emerge later.

Several supporters of No Games Chicago, a group that opposes the Olympic bid were present, along with about 200 area residents.

49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore. Photo by Christopher Pratt
49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore. Photo by Christopher Pratt

The overall tone of the meeting seemed to be that while the Olympics would be a great honor for the City, fatigue with years of scandals and back-room deals has greatly complicated the challenge of evaluating the Bid Committee’s proposal.

The meeting ended punctually at 9 p.m., with several people approaching the Bid Committee with further thoughts and inquiries.

A 2016 committee member carefully wrote down each question as it was asked, doubtless to continue honing a message that is both impressive and bold in scale while making many Chicagoans deeply suspicious about what its ultimate price might prove to be.

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