New bid for Olympic dream

September 23, 2006

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

The Summer Olympic Games would return to a compact “city center” in 2016 with athletic venues concentrated in four neighborhoods – Lincoln Park, Burnham Park, Washington Park and University Village – under Chicago’s revised Olympic bid unveiled Friday.

“We’re not going to hold ordinary Games,” said Mayor Daley’s longtime friend Pat Ryan, the insurance magnate who chairs Chicago’s Olympic Committee.

“We won’t win the bid unless we can demonstrate to the U.S. Olympic Committee that we will have spectacular Games and that 60 or more International Olympic Committee members will see that – and will vote for it.”

“It’s a great proposal … we think we’re in a great position if it comes back to America,” Daley said of Chicago’s competition with San Francisco and Los Angeles.

In addition to a collapsible stadium in Washington Park that carries a $300 million price tag, Daley’s Olympic dream envisions a whitewater slalom course in Lincoln Park, a five-pool aquatic center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, cycling on Northerly Island and rowing in a new harbor south of McCormick Place.

Tennis matches would be held at revamped Waveland courts and soccer at Soldier Field, provided the Park District can “take the corners out” to provide room for corner kicks. Beach volleyball would be played in a 15,000-seat venue on North Avenue Beach. McCormick Place would host 11 sports, as well as the International Broadcast and Press Centers.

Bus lane to Olympic Village

The focal point of Chicago’s plan is a $1 billion Olympic Village on 37 acres that architects describe as “the missing tooth of the lakefront system” – an ugly truck staging area for McCormick Place near Michael Reese Hospital.

The complex on a spectacular lakefront location would house 16,000 Olympic athletes and place one-third of them within five minutes of their competition venues. Eighty-five percent would be 15 minutes away.

Preliminary plans call for a dedicated bus lane now serving McCormick Place to be extended to the Olympic Village.

After the Games, the privately financed village would be converted into 3,000 units of housing.

“I’m excited to see a Games return to a city center and to truly have an Olympic city, as opposed to an Olympic park,” said operations and venue planner Doug Arnot, who managed venues for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta and advised the 2002 Winter Games in Sydney.

“This is not going to be an isolated Olympic park. This will be an integrated Olympic city. That’s a key component. Many of the previous Games have been isolated Olympic parks,” said Chicago Olympic planner Michael Kontos.

‘Athlete-centric’ Games

Ryan said the overriding goal is to deliver an “athlete-centric” Games that put Olympians “in an environment most favorable for their performance and enjoyment while they’re here.” That’s why a Chicago Olympics would be compact and “integrated” into the heart of a vibrant city.

“The life they’ll live while they’re here, in addition to their competition, will be exceptional. Everything is built around the athlete. We are trying desperately . . . not to have them have to travel great distances,” he said.

Chicago’s Olympic bid took a dramatic turn this week when Daley announced plans to build a collapsible, 95,000-seat Olympic stadium in historic Washington Park that would house track and field events and the opening and closing ceremonies.

On Friday, Ryan put a $300 million price tag on that stadium – including the cost of removing 85,000 of those seats after the games to leave behind a 10,000-seat “amphitheater stadium.”

That’s $100 million more than the budget would have been for a temporary stadium between Soldier Field and McCormick Place, in part, because the South Side version has 15,000 more seats and includes 200 luxury suites.

Ryan also predicted that a Chicago Games described as a “16-day party” would attract 5 million to 6 million visitors and generate $6.5 billion in economic activity.

Although Daley once envisioned a “regional” Olympics, there are only two outlying venues: equestrian and a pair of cycling events in Palos Sag Valley and shooting at an Illinois State Police facility in Joliet.

That could change if Chicago’s Olympic planners find there’s no after-market for a costly whitewater kayaking course in Lincoln Park.

“If we have the economic/business model that shows us this could be a viable business after the Games, then we would go ahead with those plans. If not, the U.S.O.C. will continue to work with us on alternatives, perhaps including South Bend [Ind.],” which has an existing course, Arnot said.