I am a big Olympics fan. I watched almost every Michael Phelps race. I still get chills when I think about Apolo Anton Ohno's short-track prowess. And when my bank asked for the name of my favorite athlete in a long list of security questions for online access, my answer was Mary Lou Retton.
I work in an industry (tv and film) that theoretically stands to benefit from the Olympics coming to Chicago. Friends and family members who work in architecture, retail, and real estate also stand to benefit.
I admit that I tend to default to a moderately anti-establishment and anti-Daley position when I am too lazy to research the facts. That means I'm probably pre-disposed to be opposed to government-subsidized mega-sporting-events and stadiums. I might like the Olympics, but I'm not really booster-club material (my great love and affection for Buddy Garrity notwithstanding).
So despite my love for the Olympics and the potential personal financial gain, and in part owing to the aforementioned bias, I read Tom Tresser's recent article on the Chi-lympics in the Huffington Post with great interest. I was leaning anti-Olympics, but needed more facts.
Tresser's facts mainly line up in the "fiscally irresponsible" column. Vancouver (2010) is facing bankruptcy as its costs approach $6 billion, London (2012) is approaching $8 billion in overages beyond its original bid, and Montreal (1976) took 30 years to pay off its Olympic debt. All of this is to be considered in the context of the Illinois' $9 billion deficit and Chicago's $290 million deficit.
But our horrible financial situation has not prevented our spineless legislators from guaranteeing the 2016 committee $500 million in city money and $250 million in state funds. And the city has committed to picking up the security bill, which for the smaller Vancouver games is over $900 million. And the city has already spent $85 million to acquire the Michael Reese Hospital site. Where is all this money coming from? If it's at hand, then why aren't we using it now to improve and expand essential services?
Other compelling arguments have to do with the threat to the bird sanctuary at Montrose Harbor (site of tennis stadium), the fact that the specialized sports infrastructure that would be built is not easily convertible to other uses, and the overall lack of investment in public transportation infrastructure as part of the plan.
This last point is the one that really gets me riled up. The transportation plan for Chicago 2016 relies on shuttle buses! There are no lasting infrastructure improvements to the el system planned at all.
In the interest of challenging my biases and stepping away from "The Daily Me," my next post will explore the pro's of Chicago 2016. Note to boosters: I will accept your help on this one.