Chicago hits snag on Olympic Village site

September 24, 2008 2:55:04 PM PDT
The city of Chicago's plan to put an Olympic Village on a former hospital campus has hit a road block because of soaring demolition and environmental cleanup costs. Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan told the Chicago Sun-Times that the cost of using the Michael Reese Hospital campus has soared beyond the original $20 million estimate to a projected $32 million.

"It's perfect. It's close to McCormick Place. That's a whole rebuilding of that community that would really be important for us," said Daley.

In July, the mayor's office announced it had reached a deal with Michael Reese's owner to buy the 37-acre property. It was structured so the city would have five years before it had to sell or make payments on the property.

"Frankly, we want to be very involved in who gets the development. It's a key development site, minutes from the Loop and the lakefront, and we've very confident it will get re-developed," Arnold Randall, Chicago planning and development commissioner, said July 8.

Ryan had personal bargaining sessions with Michael Reese's owner, but in the end, he says, the two sides couldn't restructure the deal in a way that ensured taxpayers wouldn't have to contribute.

Ryan says the city has until February 2 to pursue an alternative village site. That's when the final 2016 Summer Olympics Games bid book must be in the hands of the International Olympic Committee.

"My view is, if Medline doesn't come to some deal with the city, the city ought to pursue the property through condemnation," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th Ward.

Preckinwkle says she's ready to play hardball, confident that with the real estate market in shambles, Michael Reese's owners will realize it's in their best to pay for full clean-up at the site.

"I'm going to pursue this property regardless," she said.

A more expensive option is for the village to be built over a truck staging yard near McCormick Place. Another possibility is land just south of 31st and Lake Shore Drive. University of Chicago economist and Olympic critic Allan Sanderson says this is when things can get costly.

"Anytime you say no tax dollars will be used, that's the time to really hold onto your wallets. Tax dollars will be used either directly or indirectly," said Sanderson.

On Wednesday outside Ryan's downtown office, a group demanded a meeting with Chicago's bid leader to talk about Olympic-related job guarantees for residents who may be impacted by the Games. Ryan says he will meet with the group to discuss their concerns.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.


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