A closer look at Chicago's Olympic bid

March 12, 2009 5:16:04 PM PDT
Flying isn't cheap these days but in 2016 it will be free for thousands of Olympic athletes.Chicago's Olympic team is promising to pick up round trip, economy class airfare for athletes, coaches and support staff. The total number: 10,000. The cost: Projected at $38.1 million. The rationale?

"Basically it's a requirement of hosting. There a lot of elements in the bid book that are just standard requirements," said Doug Arnot, Chicago 2016 Bid Operations.

That's the same explanation Governor Pat Quinn gives for supporting a hike in the state's financial guarantee for the games. It's now $250 million.

"The city of Chicago said that's what's needed," said Gov. Pat Quinn.

At the same time, Chicago's bid team has inked an agreement with the Chicago Park District. It allows for all park land and Soldier Field to be used for the Olympics at "no rental cost."

Late summer is typically a slow season at Soldier Field with one notable exception: pre-season Bears football.

"The arrangement at Soldier Field is it would be during pre-season and the Bears have the ability to work with us in 2016. To ask the NFL to have their games away," said Tim Mitchell, Chicago Park District.

McCormick Place would also have to turn away customers who typically pay full price. In May through August of last year, the convention halls made $29.1 million from exhibitors. The Olympics would only pay a "nominal fee" yet to be worked out.

Monroe Harbor, along with sections of some of the city's biggest parks, would be closed for construction in the year or two leading up to the Games.

The upside: Olympic leave-behinds like a new kayaking center on Northerly Island and an indoor cycling and sports facility in Douglas Park. But experts warn the park district will have to pay the upkeep on those facilities for years to come.

"These things left behind are now white elephants. We may only have baby elephants, but still going to have white elephants if these don't get used on a regular basis," said Allen Sanderson, University of Chicago economist.

The Chicago Park District says with new facilities come new recreational options for resident, and revenue opportunities for the city. And that more than off-sets any inconvenience of the Olympics.