The Olympic Blank Check | Bleader

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Olympic Blank Check

Posted By on 04.13.09 at 01:19 PM

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Tribune reporter David Heinzmann's account of last week's Olympic forum at the Chicago Cultural Center pretty much sums up the whole bid.

"Never carved in stone, the plans for a Washington Park amphitheater continue to shrink as Chicago's Olympic organizers delicately negotiate with park advocates who fear the 2016 Summer Games would damage the historic site, writes Heinzmann.

In particular, Heinzmann's talking about what will be left after the city removes the 75,000-seat stadium it's planning to build in the middle of Washington Park. But Heinzmann's synopsis could apply to all of the venues.

The Olympics bid team has always been under pressure to strike a delicate balance. On the one hand they'll tell Chicagoans, we'll leave you with a legacy that will last for centuries. And on the other they say, don't worry--when we're gone you won't even know we were there. When anyone complains about a specific plan, they say, oh, it's a work in progress, we're still working out the fine points.

It would be a different story if Mayor Daley were proposing to build the games on some wasteland desperately needing development. But from the get-go it was clear that Daley didn't want to spend money or political capital on acquiring land. Instead, he prefers to build it on vacant city-owned land--which is apparently how he regards our parks.

Some folks have actually fallen for the bid committee's spiel. They're the ones writing the letters and e-mails saying the Olympics will spur tourism. But once the three weeks of fun and games are over, why would tourists still come here--apart from any of the other reasons they would otherwise visit Chicago? I suppose they'll be flying in by the planeload to stand on the spot in Washington Park where the Olympic stadium used to be.

It's much the same with the financing. First it wasn't going to cost us money. Then it was. But not really--we're only an insurance policy. Then we were back on the hook--but only to build the Olympic Village. And so on and so forth.

The best way to think of the Olympics is as a giant blank check given to Mayor Daley by his hapless citizens, leaving him free to spend what he wants to build what he wants anywhere he wants it. If you're comfortable with that proposition, join his crusade. He's serving the Kool-Aid in a least a half dozen different flavors.

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