Olympic bid ready to go, but hidden from public view for now

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Education reporter
  • February 06, 2009 @ 2:00 PM

Chicago is sending nearly 600 pages of material to the International Olympic Committee this week to support its bid for the 2016 games, but don’t expect to get a peek at the packet until next week.

In a brief ceremony at the Jesse Owens Community Academy this morning, about 200 grade school students added handmade paper stars to a large box with the final bid documents, all of which will be sent to the IOC’s Lausanne, Switzerland headquarters.

“The big book contains our plans and our secrets, which the whole world will find out about soon,” Olympic gold medalist Michael Conley told the pupils at the assembly.

He and other officials at the event credited Mayor Richard M. Daley with spearheading the Olympic bid.

“The 2016 games will leave a lasting legacy in the forms of affordable housing (and) athletic facilities,” Daley says.

However, some groups opposed to the Olympic bid have claimed just the opposite, that a concentration of new development and sports facilities on the Near South Side would drive up home prices and displace low-income residents.

But those voices weren’t present at this morning’s ceremony, at which members of the media were only allowed to ask the mayor a total of about five questions.

“This has been looked at by all the professionals and all the community people, with great input from the community,” Daley said in response to a reporter’s question afterward.

The 560-page, three-volume bid book will become public on Feb. 13, after the deadline for all candidate cities to submit their formal bids has passed. The materials remain under wraps until then, a spokeswoman says, to prevent other cities from copying one another’s plans.

Organizers say the Chicago Olympic bid is  "100 percent privately funded." However, Daley has said that he will use tax-increment financing to pay for the development of Olympic Village. The City Council approved the plan without debate last month.

Chicago is competing against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo to host the games. Once the official bid book is submitted to the IOC, IOC officials will begin a weeklong visit to Chicago on April 2.

After that, Chicago 2016 officials will make a presentation to the IOC in June and the IOC will make its final decision on a host city on Oct. 2.

When contacted after the Daley press conference, affordable housing advocates who have expressed concerns about whether the Olympic committee's promises will be met said they are taking a wait-and-see approach, at least until the bid book is made public.

"There's ways that you can structure these types of developments that could help … the preservation of housing and creation of housing," says Kevin Jackson, the executive director of the nonprofit Chicago Rehab Network.

While his group hasn't taken a specific position on how the Olympics could affect affordable housing, it has been keen on making people aware of the potential consequences.

"We've been really committed at Rehab Network to create as much transparency and understanding about what some past experiences around the globe have been," Jackson says.

It's those past experiences that have advocates like Kenneth Williams, with Housing Bronzeville, worried.

"Sit down with Housing Bronzeville and tell us exactly what it is they plan to do and put it in writing and make it binding," Williams says.

He and others worry about residents getting priced out of the area, and so far they've gotten no assurances about what he 2016 committee would do to prevent that.

"They promised no displacement, but from the history of the Olympics, this is all they do," says Valencia Hardy, also a member of Housing Bronzeville.

Just getting new facilities isn't enough, she says.

"There's nothing good about what happens in the aftermath of the Olympics, other than them putting in a stadium and an aquatic center," she says.

Peter Sachs is a Chicago-based journalist. He covers higher education for the Daily News.