Chicago still paying for failed Olympic bid

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In two weeks Chicago would be hosting the world if it had won its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and there's one outstanding cost taxpayers continue to foot. (WLS)

In two weeks Chicago would be hosting the world if it had won its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Instead, the city lost to Rio de Janeiro, which some are saying is a victory in and of itself.

Rio's governor has declared a "state of calamity," a financial emergency, ahead of the games. A promised subway line isn't complete. There are major concerns about crime and health.

It could have been Chicago. In 2008 there was enthusiasm in the city, as even the newly-elected President Obama campaigned on behalf of the bid.

"In 2016, I'll be wrapping up my second term as president! I can't think of a better way to finish that than by walking into Washington Park with Mayor Daley!" Obama said at the time.

That energy and enthusiasm would be snuffed out in a stunning first-round defeat just months later. The bulk of Chicago's Olympic bid was paid for with private money and Mayor Daley promised no taxpayer money. But there was one glaring exception that remains an eyesore to this day: the Michael Reese Hospital campus.

The campus would have become an athletes' village if Chicago had won the bid. The city hasn't been able to sell it in the past eight years. Mayor Daley put taxpayers on the hook for $91 million and it won't be paid in full until 2024.

"I hope we can learn from these mega-projects and, regardless of what happens to the Olympic movement, stop throwing money into all these concrete-driven mega projects that rob the poor and give money to the rich," says Tom Tresser, organizer of "No Games Chicago."

"All of that cost is greatly outweighed by the impact, positive impact, that we've had," says John Murray, former Chiacgo 2016 chief bid officer.

Murray helped run the city's Olympic bid, which he says is still benefitting Chicago.

"From that we got the NFL draft, the America's Cup race this summer, the international rugby matches, the international triathlon. All those events came to the city that we never would have seen," Murray says.

One more cost of the bid was labor peace; Mayor Daley signed expensive, long-term pacts with big unions that are still in effect today.

Related Topics:
societyOlympicspoliticsChicago - Washington ParkChicago - Bronzeville
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