Ever since they got a whiff of proposed plans to turn their Chicago
neighborhoods into ground zero for the 2016 Olympics, many South Side residents have grown concerned that they will end up sidelined by the games. Last year, a coalition organizations began ...
Ever since they got a whiff of proposed plans to turn their Chicago neighborhoods into ground zero for the 2016 Olympics, many South Side residents have grown concerned that they will end up sidelined by the games. Last year, a coalition organizations began pressuring City Hall to produce a legally-binding "community benefits agreement" to guarantee the locals would see a cut -- via apprenticeships and housing -- of the Olympic development boom. As regular readers know, the city initially attempted to stonewall the group. But their campaign ultimately produced some bad PR for the bid committee, not to mention the mayor, and the City Hall insiders relented -- sort of. In March, Chicago 2016 agreed to sign a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) upping minority contracting, local employment, and affordable housing goals. But legal experts subsequently confirmed what community groups knew all along: the document hardly represents a guarantee.
Apparently, Chicago 2016 thought that they had outfoxed the coalition -- and the public -- by handing them the MOU and walking away with some favorable headlines. Indeed, while appearing at one of the bid committee's community meetings in Bronzeville last night, chairman Pat Ryan attempted to trot out the document as "legally-binding" evidence that the South Side is in line for big gains. Luckily, the residents in attendance -- invited from the 3rd, 4th, and 20th Wards -- knew better.
"You're selling it like it's going to protect us," Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization's Jitu Travis told Ryan. "It's not. Where's the legally-binding document?"
Ryan countered that the committee's obligation is to its private investors, claiming that they will pay for "100 percent" of the games' "operating expenses." The indentities of all those interests remains under wraps, though, as the bid committee continues to suspiciously push off disclosure requirements until after Oct. 2 (when the 2016 host city is announced). Moreover, the big expenses will come from capital improvements, not operating expenses. As Tribune business columnist David Greising pointed out yesterday, it's hard to swallow the committee's insistence that the Olympics are solely a private venture:
Chicago 2016's demand that it needs an unlimited financial guarantee, not to mention $500 million from the city and $250 million from the state, makes organizing a Chicago Olympics a very public matter.
If last night's meeting is any indication, South Siders are catching on. When Ryan attempted to prove his confidence in the Chicago 2016 plan by offering to bet each audience member $1,000 that they won't pay for any of the Olympics, he was virtually laughed off the stage.
Image of the proposed Olympic Village courtesy of Chicago 2016.