What Chicago lost, gained from a failed Olympic bid

October 2, 2010 8:59:59 PM PDT
It was one year ago Saturday that silence fell over Daley Plaza. The city was shocked when word came from Copenhagen that Chicago was knocked out of the race for the 2016 Summer Olympics on the first vote. What has happened since then?

The failed Olympic bid cost the city thousands of jobs and a chance to be in the international spotlight. But one year later, Chicago is turning the corner on its Olympic demise.

One year later, ABC7 Chicago is taking a look at what we lost and what we gained from the failed bid.

People usually don't throw parties to commemorate failure, but Saturday night, those who worked to bring Chicago the Olympics reunited to toast their efforts.

"It was a great experience for everyone that participated in it. Chicago, I think, got really elevated to a new international standard," said Lori Healey, former president of Chicago 2016.

But hearing the IOC announcement last year, "The city of Chicago, having obtained the least number of votes, will not participate in the next round", represented an agony of defeat that, for many, still stings now.

"It's a shame that it didn't come here. It would have been nice to have it come to the city," Matthew O'Connor told ABC7.

But one year later, it's clear why it didn't happen. There was a strong desire for a first-ever South American Olympics, and Chicago's failed bid also revealed serious cracks in the relationship between the U.S. and International Olympic Committees.

"It was not a weakness in Chicago's bid. It was the strength of Rio and the weaknesses of the United States Olympic Committee in the international Olympic movement," said Marc Ganis, sports business consultant, Sportscorp.

Chicago's bid was funded by private donations; tax payers did not foot the bill. And while most of the money was spent on the bid itself, millions did end up benefiting at least two legacy groups.

One is the 2016 fund for Chicago neighborhoods, which has helped create more than 2,000 jobs in hard-hit areas. Another is World Sports Chicago, which gives sports opportunities to inner-city youth.

"And we keep trying to raise money through grants, foundations, donations to build World Sports into a bigger, better organization," said Bill Scherr, president, World Sports Chicago.

"We didn't get it, unfortunately, but we left an amazing legacy, and this is a fantastic chance to celebrate that legacy," said former Chicago 2016 spokesman Patrick Sandusky.

However, there are still questions about the fate of the former Michael Reese hospital campus, which would have housed the Olympic Village. Mayor Daley wants to use it to create high-tech jobs.

"We're going to look at a technology park there. That's going to be a huge technology park," he said Saturday.

For the Olympics, the city brokered an $86-million deal for the property, but payments were deferred for a few years, and the city says taxpayers won't be on the hook.

"At that point, hopefully, the economy is better and the land will be worth at least what the city agreed to pay for it, plus the remediation," Ganis said.

As for whether or not Chicago will ever try again, most say not anytime soon. It could be years before the U.S. Olympic Committee repairs relations with the IOC.

Any future Chicago bid would likely cost less because the 2016 bid is there as a template.

Saturday night's reunion party was also a fundraiser for two Chicago-area athletes. So, the Olympic spirit is still alive.


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