Olympic forum raises questions about economy, transit

A No Games Chicago representative speaks at the Lake View public forum. | Credit: Adeshina O. Emmanuel Jr.

Opponents of the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid argued last night that hosting the games will destroy the city's public parks and displace poor families who live near venues, while backers said the games will revive a flagging economy.

The comments came at a community forum hosted by the Lake View Citizens Council.

Attendees raised several concerns, including concerns over parking, security, cost overruns, and whether the CTA is equipped to handle thousands of additional visitors during the event.

Chicago 2016 representative Bill Scherr, a former Olympic wrestler who won bronze in 1988 said the Olympic games will  “provide our city with a once in a lifetime opportunity for economic growth.

“The games, we believe, will transform our city at a critical time,” Scherr said.  “People have said we shouldn’t have the games now because, gosh, we cant afford them given this terrible economic time that we’re we are in.”

But that's all the more reason to host the games, Scherr said.

“Our bid will not divert money away from existing programs, but will instead bring new investment in our city, from our companies and from the federal government,” says Scherr.

Scherr says the Olympics will generate $22.5 billion in economic activity, create 315,000 jobs and $7 billion in wages.  He also says the local economy would benefit from increased tourism and also benefit from “substantial funds” from the federal government to improve rail lines and roads. A significant amount of surplus funds left after the Olympics would go towards youth sports programs, Scherr says.

“None of these things will happen in Chicago if we don’t win the right to host the games. This is not an either or situation,” Scherr warned.

Tom Tresser, a volunteer with No Games Chicago, urged audience-goers to speak out against the games and outlined his group’s rationale for opposing the games.

Chicago is amid a financial crisis and can’t afford the games, he said. Additionally, the city has a culture of political corruption and incompetence and will mishandle the Olympic bid, he said.

Tresser accused the Olympic bid committee of “Enron accounting” and said there is a lack of financial honesty and transparency.

“This is the crew that brought you the massive cost overruns of Millennium Park, the Monroe street parking garages, the O’Hare expansion, “says Tresser, who noted that in “every case” past Olympic games have ballooned beyond expected costs.

The city should focus on stabilizing its financial situation rather than committing funds to the Olympics, says Tresser.

Irma Tranter, president of park advocacy group Friends of the Parks stressed that venues built on park sites should be built with plans to minimize damage to neighborhoods and that after the games, parks should be left in a sustainable condition where the surrounding community can enjoy them to the same, or greater capacity.

“Friends of the Parks is working with the Olympic committee but we’re very concerned about the proposals as they stand right now,” Tranter says.  “The Olympics can have a legacy of leaving behind something that is needed and something that can be stupendous in the right place.  It can also do damage to parks.”

Ald. Helen Shiller (D-46), Ald. Tom Tunney (D-44) and Ald. Scott. Waguespack attended the event, but did not speak.