Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sun-Times | Council OKs 'Insurance Policy'

Council OKs Games 'insurance policy'

March 15, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times
Fran Spielman City Hall Reporter

In a historic vote that could reshape Chicago or leave taxpayers deeply in debt, the City Council took a $500 million gamble Wednesday that a 2016 Summer Olympic Games here would turn a profit.

"If everything fails -- an earthquake, tornado, everything comes down -- this is your insurance policy," Mayor Daley said, insisting the $500 million guarantee will never be tapped.

Beating a U.S. Olympic Committee deadline with 17 days to spare, aldermen also voted 45-5 to approve intergovernmental agreements that put local tax dollars on the line for the Olympics, even if there's a surplus.

Among other things, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority would transfer to the city ownership of air rights over a truck staging area for McCormick Place that would be used to build a $1.1 billion Olympic Village.

'Price controls' to be sought

Corporation Counsel Mara Georges disclosed last week that the air rights would be sold to private developers for $100 million. Half would be used to build an amphitheater to be left behind when a temporary Olympic stadium in Washington Park is torn down. The other half would help build an aquatic center in Douglas Park. The Chicago Park District has also agreed to contribute $15 million toward the aquatic center.

So much for Daley's promise to bankroll a Chicago Olympics with "not a dime" of taxpayers' money.

The mayor has also agreed to seek state and city legislation no later than June 30, 2014, to implement "price controls" that would apply to hotels and other "spectator-oriented businesses" before and during the Games.

All five votes against the Olympics were cast by African-American aldermen who feel shut out of the Olympic planning -- and fear constituents would not share in the jobs and contracts.

They are Dorothy Tillman (3rd), Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Shirley Coleman (16th), Arenda Troutman (20th) and Howard Brookins (21st).

Troutman, who lost her re-election bid under the cloud of corruption charges, called the Olympics a "blatant land grab" and warned that "undesirables" would be moved out to polish the city's image.

'How committed is Chicago?'

Preckwinkle blasted Daley for waiting until after the election to come clean about the cost. "It's very hard to believe that no one in the city knew prior to the election that we were going to be required to put up $500 million."

Finance Committee Chairman Edward M. Burke (14th) said the Olympics "will alter our urban terrain forever."

Several times during the 1-hour 16-minute debate, there were shouts from the gallery and banging on the glass that separates the balcony from the chamber. But only a handful of people were escorted out.

Ald. Pat O'Connor (40th) warned that the "acrimony" of Wednesday's debate could make the USOC wonder, "How committed is Chicago?"

The guarantee assumes a Chicago Olympics would turn a $525 million profit and that -- even if it lost money -- a $200 million private sector cushion provided by Olympic Village equity and the sale of stadium skyboxes would shield taxpayers.

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