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The [Tuesday] Papers

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown is entirely right to chide the city council on its complete failure to properly involve itself in Chicago's Olympic bid, but when he says there are "questions they probably should have asked months ago along with some they still aren't asking," I almost choked on my breakfast.

The same, you see, could be said for his own paper and most of the local media, who seem to have forgotten long ago how to actually carry out the maxim they so often love to repeat about checking out your mother if she says she loves you.

After all, it was just a couple days ago when Steno Spielman wrote up the assertions of Olympic domo Pat Ryan that "All of the Games have been profitable" without bothering to include even the most well-known and readily-available facts that say otherwise.

Montreal, most notably, was out a billion dollars after the Olympics left town, and stuck with the monstrosity that was its Olympic stadium - as pointed out by the Tribune's Philip Hersh on Monday. The financial figures from other cities are a mixed bag at best, including the spectacle of Atlanta selling off everything but the swizzle sticks to close a $50 million deficit in the months before the Games opened, huge cost overruns in Greece, and the disaster-in-the-making that is the London 2012 Olympics, originally projected to cost $4.65 billion and now with a price tag north of $17 billion. Oops!

(The Sun-Times's Andrew Herrmann nonetheless repeated Ryan's claim on Chicago Tonight: Week in Review on Friday night without nary a batted eye; bear in mind that he is the reporter on the paper's "Bringing the Olympics to Chicago" beat. That's not sarcasm. He really is.)

Hersh explains that Chicago officals are relying on a single German economist "who has consulted [for] several Olympic bid cities and sponsors" to justify their financial claims.

But why rely on Holger Preuss when we have one of the nation's esteemed sports economists right here at the University of Chicago in Allen Sanderson?

Perhaps because Sanderson likes to remind us that the economic benefits touted from mega sporting events, new stadiums, and sports franchises in general are way overexaggerated, and in many cases non-existent.

Sporting events and facilities tend to take a share of the entertainment dollar that otherwise would be spent elsewhere, for no net gain. The difference is in who gets that dollar (and who gets to have all the fun at our expense), and in the case of the Olympics, it's white-haired corporate men like Ryan.

(Chicago's "third party" financing solution, by the way, isn't necessarily the panacea it's being made out to be.)

So when Brown writes that he imagines the benefits of the Olympics will outweigh the costs, I respectfully suggest he do some reporting instead of imagining.

(And if it's true that the mayor is planning to leverage the Olympics for federal transportation and infrastructure dollars that otherwise wouldn't come to the city, as Brown writes, I'd like to see plan and what assumptions are built into it.)

Reporters trying to pass for savvy now say, as Hermmann did Friday night, that "everyone knew" the United States Olympic Committee would require the city to guarantee financing, but that begs the question: Why didn't he report it sooner then? Week in Review host Joel Weisman asked Herrmann just that. "They weren't going out of their way to tell us," he said.

Hello! What, you were waiting on them?

Meanwhile, the public spending has already begun.

"The juxtaposition of the Olympic stories in Saturday's Sun-Times couldn't have been more revealing," Ben Joravsky of the Reader writes. "On page two was a story in which Mayor Daley promised that no public money would be spent on the Olympics. And on page three was a story in which city officials said just the opposite, airing plans to spend $15 million in Park District money to help build a $78 million 'state-of-the-art aquatic-center' in Douglas Park. That was fast - the city usually waits at least a few months before going back on its word."

Plans for a stadium that would desecrate historic Washington Park are also still in flux. If you get past the excitement in this story over a North Side whitewater kayaking course, you'll see that "Meanwhile, a Chicago 2016 spokesman said the Washington Park amphitheater, to be built on the site of the Games' temporary stadium, could 'potentially' grow to 15,000 seats from the current 5,000."

The stadium's cost, similarly, will grow. "The temporary stadium is not going to come in at $300 or $400 (million) - it's going to be $700 (million) or a billion," Sanderson told Crain's. "Who's going to be liable for that?"

Sanderson has already said that Chicago would be lucky if the economic impact of the Games was zero. It's possible, in addition to the costs and strain on city services, that as much economic activity will be restrained as created during the Games. In "Olympic Pork For the World's Hog Butcher," Burke Bindbeutel of Lumpen magazine (not available online) says that, for example, in Los Angeles in 1984, ticket sales to Disneyland decreased when the Olympics were in town. I can't vouch for that, but it wouldn't be surprising.

Finally, Crain's raises (as near as I can interpret) another issue unexplored by the local press: What civic and charitable projects won't get contributions now that all that nice private funding is going to the Olympics?

All questions that should have been asked by now - not just by the city council, but by the city's news organizations.

Michael Jordan Mystery
"Ryan said the city will wait to enlist former Bulls star Michael Jordan when he's most needed," the Tribune reported last week.

Um, and when would that be? The night before the USOC makes it decision?

And No Oprah
"To date, she and her studio have not been approached to ask, a spokeswoman said."

White Men
Ryan says it's only because he's the one out front that it looks like the Olympics effort is, in Ald. Fredrenna Lyle's words, "an elite, white man's rich millionaire's kind of party club."

"[W]e have a very diverse group," Ryan says. "We've been working on inclusion."

Maybe Jordan and Oprah aren't black enough for him.

That's Pat!
"Asked if he would be willing to bet his own fortune that the Olympics would make money, Ryan said, 'That's between myself, my wife, and my children, thank you very much.'"

Oh, and his accountant. Not the same one the city uses.

Olympicology
* Chicagolympics. New events approved to give the Games a local flavor.

* The [Olympic Tax] Papers. We hate to say we told you so, but we'll be saying it for about nine more years.

* Chicago 2016 vs. Baghdad 2016. They have a better pool.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Carry the torch.



Permalink

Posted on March 13, 2007


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock Including Riot Fest Highlights.
TV - No Rehabilitating Vietnam.
POLITICS - Rauner Vetoes Online Privacy.
SPORTS - Coffman: Cooper's Blooper Not As Bad As You Think.

BOOKS - Quimby's Adult Thrillers!

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: Black Jeans In White Tel Aviv.


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