In Defense Of The Chicago 2016 Bid
By Benjy Lipsman in News on Oct 1, 2009 5:20PM
With the Olympic announcement less than 24-hours away, we turned to a member of the staff who has experience living in an Olympic host city for a defense of the bid. Benjy is one of three Chicagoist staffers who lived in the Atlanta area during the 1996 Olympics and offers this pro-Olympics perspective.
While some of the Chicagoist staff is anti-Olympics, some of us (along with a majority of the city, apparently) do favor hosting the 2016 games. So why do we want to see Chicago host the 2016 Olympics? For much the same reason we write for Chicagoist -- we love our city and we want to share it with others. We love that we live in a world class city, only much of the world still thinks our streets are overrun by the likes of Al Capone. We want them to admire our majestic architecture, enjoy our beautiful lakefront, explore our colorful neighborhoods and meet our friendly citizens. Twice before -- the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress World's Fair in 1933 -- Chicago has hosted the world, and we think it's time we do so again.
Chicago is fortunate that it already has an extensive tourism infrastructure that includes tens of thousands of hotel rooms, as well as countless restaurants and bars. Chicago has two major international airports to get the world to our doorstep, and the CTA and Metra for getting visitors around town -- overall a strong public transportation system in spite of some recent issues. We also have a slew of pre-existing stadiums and venues that can be used for events. To keep costs down Chicago's bid also relies heavily on temporary venues rather than the construction of new, permanent venues that might have limited use after the Games.
Of course, we would still need to build a great deal in order to host the hundreds of events, thousands of athletes and millions of visitors. It costs big bucks to prepare the city for such an event. Venues have to be built, infrastructure needs to be improved and somehow that needs to be paid for. The Chicago 2016 Bid Book spells out the expected revenue and costs for the games, projecting a cost of $3.3 billion and revenues of $3.8 billion. Additionally, private developers will spend almost $1 billion to construct the Olympic Village. And while Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was somewhat coy, Olympics always result in federal transportation dollars to boost that infrastructure.
All that spending means lots of money being invested in the region that creates jobs. In this economy, how better could a city create tens of thousands of well paying jobs so quickly? Those engineers and construction workers collect their paychecks and then eat meals out, rent homes, buy clothes, etc. so the money gets spread throughout the city beyond just those working to build the Games.
And while the overall expenditures will be tremendous, the overall tax burden on the local taxpayers is minimal given the scope of the games and the net benefits we'll see, like $250 million worth of new facilities given to the park district in return for spending $15 million. The city has made guarantees should revenues fall short, but that has not been the case in recent games and the Chicago 2016 budget allows for a good amount of cost overrun before such guarantees kick in. We're not oblivious to the financial concerns, worries of corruption and suspicion of sweetheart deals for insiders that seem to be the basis for most objections -- but we believe that more serious examinations of the finances prove a net positive for the city. The vast majority of the funds to pay for the games are dollars the city wouldn’t see otherwise - to suggest that they city is spending dollars on venues that it could otherwise spend on schools, clinics, etc. isn’t really the case. On the other hand, additional spending means more tax revenues that the city can spend on other services.
Hosting the Olympics would also boost private business in the region. It would likely help restart stalled projects like the hotels on Block 37 and Waterview Tower. It'd reignite redevelopment of blighted South Side neighborhoods that stalled out due to the recession and real estate bubble. And Chicago’s cache as an Olympic host will likely help the city lure new business to the area, creating long term jobs.
I lived in Atlanta surrounding the '96 games - spending the summer of '94 there, starting college in fall of '95, and remaining in Atlanta post-graduation until 2001. I experienced first-hand how the city ramped up in anticipation of the Games, what it was like during the Olympics and how the city moved on at their conclusion. Atlanta may have shown only a small profit on their balance sheet after on the Olympics, but ended up with better assets like an upgraded airport and improved state university campuses. It had a more vibrant entertainment and restaurant scene. International companies set up their U.S. operations in the area. It helped Atlanta grow and thrive. Which isn’t say everything was done perfectly -- no amount of Olympics window dressing could make downtown a hub of nightlife once the world left. But overall, the city was proud to have hosted the Olympics and saw long term benefits from doing so. And the citizens of Atlanta got to host one hell of a party. We, too, should embrace this opportunity to enhance our city and show it off to the world.