By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Yes, it would have cost a pretty penny. Yes, its construction would have provoked a pileup of headaches. And, yes, it would have surely come with its share of corruption and graft.
This is Chicago, after all.
But in spite of all the cons involved in hosting an Olympics in your city, I still wish the Summer Games were coming to ours four years from now. The 2016 Olympics would have been exciting. They would have been fascinating. They would have been fun.
And you can go ahead and call me naïve, but I’m not convinced that they would have also had to be the massive civic albatross that naysayers painted them as.
After all, London seemed to do the Games right, so why couldn’t Chicago pull off the same? In fact, in at least one “L” of a way the Olympics could have greatly helped the future of our city.
Alas, come 2016, the Olympics won’t be blowing onto the Windy City lakefront, but will instead head south of the equator to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro which, according to the latest reports, may or may not be equipped to handle the Games.
In spite of the disappointing loss in 2016 bidding process, I still consider Chicago to be an Olympic-caliber city. And I’d like to see Chicago’s leaders go for the gold again by pursuing the 2024 Games Now, I’m aware that another Olympic bid by our Midwestern metropolis might be as likely as Usain Bolt switching to swimming for Rio, but I’d still like to see the city give it a shot.
Why? Well, for one thing, I think we’d win.
In the sense of full disclosure, I also thought Chicago would win in 2016. My main rationale for that was, come 2016, it will have been 20 years since the last time the U.S. last hosted a Summer Olympics (1996 in Atlanta). With the bulk of the Olympics’ largest advertisers, its TV network partner and a huge audience all based here in the states, I figured that America was due.
Obviously, I figured wrong.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that that Chicago’s bid likely never had any realistic shot, no matter how strong it might have been. At the time of the final voting for the 2016 Games three years ago, the IOC and the USOC were caught up in a heated spat over television revenues, an issue that was finally resolved earlier this year.
That tiff, coupled with the IOC’s clear desire to stage an Olympics in South America for the first time, left Chicago with too many hurdles to overcome. Today, however, those issues are now non-factors, and I think Chicago could easily follow in the footsteps of Rio, Beijing and Athens. All three cities bid and lost at least once prior to eventually being awarded the Olympics Games.
In September 2013, the IOC will select its host city for the 2020 Olympics. The USOC has already decided to skip that competition as Istanbul, Tokyo and Madrid duke it out (the latter two cities also bid in 2016). Earlier this summer, the USOC announced that it also will sit out the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, opting to instead explore the possibility of hosting the Summer Olympics in 2024 or the Winter Olympics in 2026.
By the time 2024 arrives, it will have then been a staggering 28 years since the U.S. hosted a Summer Games, and it’s difficult to imagine America being snubbed yet again. As strong as I think Chicago’s bid was for 2016 (if you remove the geopolitics and broadcast rights drama from the mix), it could be even stronger for 2024.
The cost of the Olympics is of course an enormous concern and rumors already are swirling that Rio will be swimming in red ink come 2016. On Monday, Reuters reported that, “costs for Olympic projects are soaring, as the investment boom and Brazil’s high taxes and labor costs, known locally as the ‘Brazil Cost,’ inflate the price of everything from construction cranes to beachside coconuts.”
The initial cost estimate for the Rio Games was $14.4 billion, but critics are fearing the final tally could far exceed that. However, much of that concern stems from the sense that Rio – which lacks adequate airport and transit infrastructure and hotel availability – is still trying to catch up with the developed world.
“Brazil and Rio have four years to do all those things that have not been done in 400,” Alberto Murray Neto, a Sao Paulo attorney and past member of Brazil’s Olympic committee, pointedly told Reuters.
Another major concern that comes with hosting the Olympics is the so-called “White Elephant Curse,” which refers to the structures built for the Games that end up having no usefulness afterward. For the 2004 Athens Olympics, Greece built or upgraded 36 venues at a cost of $14.8 billion. Reuters reported that almost all are now derelict and graffiti-covered following repeated failures to lease them. Meanwhile, Beijing has also had a difficult time finding tenants for its 32 venues, of which a dozen were built just for the Games.
London, however, is being praised for holding the most “temporary” Olympic Games in history, laying out a fiscally responsible blueprint for future host cities in the process. According to data from Populous, 257,000 out of 745,100 seats in London’s 34 Olympics venues will be dismantled now that the Games have left town. That’s equal to the total number removed in the three previous Games combined.
Of London’s 34 venues, only eight are permanent, newly built structures and they will all be scaled down. That includes the 80,000-seat Olympic stadium, which can be reduced to seat 25,000. Meanwhile, seven venues, including the 12,000-seat basketball arena, are temporary, while the rest of the structures already existed.
Chicago’s 2016 plan already included using the city’s many pre-existing venues to host a wide array of events, while the Olympic stadium located on the South Side in Jackson Park was set to be temporary. With a transportation infrastructure already in place and a plethora of pre-existing hotel rooms, costs for a Chicago Olympics shouldn’t have to be exorbitant with smart planning.
But if the city was going to spend, it should have been on improvements to the city’s aging transit system. In July, the CTA announced that it plans to spend $205 million to upgrade bus and rail maintenance facilities over the next three years. The goal, officials said, is to foster major improvements in transit service. The proposed upgrades that were detailed included replacing bush wash racks, bus repair hoists and other measures designed to get a longer life out of younger buses, while also buying new fuel-efficient buses.
However, as a commuter who rides the “L” – and not the bus – each day, I’d like to see massive upgrades and additions to the city’s fleet of train cars. The money for those improvements doesn’t exist, however, because they’re not considered a must. But if the Olympics were coming to town, they would be.
And that pressure to finally upgrade and expand the “L” would truly be a boon to the city and its residents. While the memories of the athletes’ feats during the Games would be great, I think a modernization of the “L” would be the true great Olympic legacy for Chicago.
It’s a legacy that could still be realized if Chicago were to make a run for 2024. I’m not expecting that to happen, but that’s not going to stop me from daydreaming about it.
Besides, I have plenty of time while waiting for my train.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.