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Olympics Mon Jan 19 2009

Olympic Bid Committee: No Means No

I'm happy to run an editorial submitted to us by local activist and author Anne Elizabeth Moore.

I have the same problem with marketers as I do rapists: that it is impossible to convince them that some things don't mean "yes." Turns out, the Chicago 2016 Committee (C2016) has much the same tendency.

When speaking last Wednesday at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to the Lincoln Park Advisory Council, for example, Patrick G. Ryan Sandusky described the purpose of C2016: "to bring the Games to Chicago." He provided a quick calendar of events including the bid's due date (February 12), the bid's publication date (February 13), the International Olympic Committee visit (April), a presentation to the IOC in June, and the receipt of the final decision on October 2, 2009.

Sandusky implored those present to ignore the lessons of other Olympic cities, who've drastically gone over budget, created needless buildings requiring upkeep, and mismanaged resources from day one. Chicago, he claims, will benefit from the Olympics largely because C2016 has reduced the need for new structures and focused on rehabbing existing structures.

While this is likely true -- decreasing the number of new buildings does minimize, although not eliminate, financial risk -- Sandusky's statements also ignore the very real concerns citizens have about submitting an Olympic bid during a vast economic crisis.

It was this kind of talk, this sweeping dismissal of all potential arguments against the Games, that ran through Sandusky's presentation. At one point, he even rushed to assure us that the previous day's unanimous city council vote to create a new TIF to fund the Olympic Village was preceded by vociferous debate. Therefore, he explained, our concerns about the potentially damaging effects the Games could have on our city had already been heard. (The implication for our meeting being, perhaps, there was no reason to raise them again.)

But Sandusky's not-so-clever sleight-of-hand disguised his slight acknowledgment that already, C2016 had violated its earlier promise not to use public funds to bring the Games to Chicago. And although it remained unspoken, it did not go unnoticed.

Billed as a discussion, the talk was supposed to also present the findings of Professor of Economics Allen Sanderson, who's been notably resistant to the lure of the Games in Chicago. ("I was against them," he joked, "until I realized how much I could sublet my [Hyde Park] apartment for. Now I'm wholeheartedly for them.") Yet C2016 came out in double the numbers to dominate the discussion, which quickly turned into C2016 responding to all audience questions -- even those intended for Professor Sanderson.

In structure, the setup did present a somewhat disturbing "balance" to the proceedings. By which I mean, even when those present raised very serious misgivings about the Games in our city, C2016 rushed to welcome their comments and explain the ways the issue had been previously addressed in their bid.

One item of debate included the economic impact analysis--"laughable," Sanderson called it, correctly denouncing it as a marketing tool, written by marketing professors. There was also a reported environmental impact statement which claimed that no migratory birds would be dislocated in the building of the Village. (The Jarvis Bird Sanctuary is uncomfortably nearby. Granted, in Lincoln Park, where few facilities will ultimately be located, residents are less concerned about human dislocation.) This impact statement came under severe fire, however, as audience member after audience member--working in the areas impacted by the potential Village--rose to wonder aloud why no one had interviewed them in the course of the statement's creation. (Sandusky urged them to create new research and submit it to their committee--an excellent brush-off, as it sidestepped the fact that they weren't going to pay for this new research, nor would anyone have time to fold it into the bid due in less than three weeks.)

Undebated, however, were the economics of the bid. As Sanderson pointed out, C2016 had developed a budget of $60 Million--a number that only gets the city to the October 2, 2009 decision date. "It'll cost $100 Million," Sanderson stated, assuming budget overruns, and looked to Sandusky for confirmation. Sandusky gave no response. Positive or negative. Sanderson continued: "Aren't there better things we could be spending that money on?" He asked.

The bid's publication--on view to the public only after submission to the IOC--will present the public's first full glimpse of C2016's plans for the city. (One meeting attendee last night, speaking to C2016, termed them "your plans." The accusation met with no dissent from the crowd.) But even before we've seen them, some of us are already saying, "no."

So why does the Chicago 2016 Committee keep interpreting that to mean, "yes"?

Anne Elizabeth Moore
Cultural Critic

UPDATE: An earlier version listed Patrick Ryan, rather than Patrick Sandusky, as the speaker; and pegged a cost at $100 billion rather than million. Corrections have been made at the request of the editorialist.

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Tom Tresser / January 22, 2009 1:11 PM

Thanks for covering the event and for this piece. The Patrick who was at the forum was Patrick Sandusky, VP of Communications. If people have opinions on the games and their impact on our parks and our city - please join the Lincoln Park Advisory Council at

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