Thursday, March 15, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times | Secrecy Must Stop

Get Olympics planning out in the open

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial
March 15, 2007

Mayor Daley repeatedly promised no public money would be spent if Chicago were picked to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. That pledge is no doubt a key reason why many people have gone along with the city's bid -- if it's not going to cost us anything, why not go along? But it's probably fair to say that many others supported the idea even though they were skeptical about the pledge -- and two recent developments appear to confirm that that skepticism was well-grounded.

The first was the news last week from an Olympic scout team that was in Chicago to study the city's bid. That team insisted that Chicago "put some skin in the game" with some form of government guarantee against operating cost overruns. The city responded by presenting a layered guarantee that would put other entities on the hook before $500 million in city reserves were tapped. Daley said the guarantee doesn't break his pledge because the city isn't "putting any actual money up" unless an unprecedented financial disaster happens. Mayoral aides said the chances that the $500 million pool will be tapped are "practically nonexistent." Fair enough. But Daley and his Olympic boosters could have saved themselves a lot of aggravation if they had come clean about the need for a guarantee from the city from the start.

The second development, however, is a little less easy to explain away. The city's Olympic team last week said the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority would sell air rights at the site of the proposed Olympic Village near McCormick Place and use the proceeds -- about $100 million -- to help pay for a temporary Olympic stadium in Washington Park on the South Side and a permanent aquatic center in Douglas Park on the West Side. No matter how you cut it, those are public dollars that would be spent on the Olympics, dollars that might instead be put to some other public use. And the decision to spend them was made in the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded Olympic planning to date.

Chicago is competing against Los Angeles for the right to be the U.S. candidate in the international race for the 2016 games. The U.S. Olympic Committee is scheduled to make its choice next month, with the global race to be settled in 2009. We've argued that Chicago should be picked because it would put our city on display to the rest of the world and provide us with a golden opportunity to invest in our infrastructure. We still emphatically support the city's bid -- and we'd guess most Chicagoans still support it as well -- even though public money was officially committed by the City Council on Wednesday. But the time for secrecy is over. Let's bring the planning process into the open so we know, to the greatest degree possible, what we're getting into.

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