Prof details economics of 2016 Olympics

By Al Gaspari

Larry Bennett, a professor of political science at DePaul University, discussed the potential economic effects the 2016 Olympics might have on the city of Chicago, particularly in the South Side, in a speech Monday night.

A specialist on the topic, Bennett co-authored the 2003 book on Chicago development It’s Hardly Sportin’: Stadiums, Neighborhoods, and the New Chicago.

Bennett’s speech was part of “Displacement Week,” a collaboration between various student organizations designed to examine the ways economic development can displace and disenfranchise urban residents. This week featured a mix of Chicago events and international events, according to Sarah Moberg, assistant to the director of the human rights program at the U of C and one of the event’s organizers.

Bennett raised the question: “How do you make the most of it if it comes?” He expressed concern about the physical impact the Olympic Stadium might have on Washington Park, where portions of land would be made unavailable to the public if the stadium were built there.

He also evaluated the long-term economic benefit the Olympics would have on Chicago. Citing studies of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Bennett said the Olympics brought only “a blip in terms of economic activity.”

Bennett also focused on where construction contracts could potentially go and which companies might benefit. He added that South Side small businesses can benefit from the Olympics but will need to pressure the Olympic Committee to acknowledge their representation.

“This can be something more than the circus coming into town and then leaving town,” Bennett said.

Bennett proposed building multiple Olympic villages rather than the traditional single village location. He said that the first single Olympic village occurred in Los Angeles in 1932, adding that there is “no mandate from the International Olympic Committee that there must be a single Olympic village.” By broadening the construction, developers could easily convert the parts of the Olympic village into residential housing after the games are over.

Bennett said that the city of Chicago needs more dialogue with residents about their needs and concerns over urban development. He said that if Chicago wins the 2016 bid, he fears “that the city and the Olympic Committee will be non-consultative” with neighborhood organizations and residents.

“Local residents are being told vaguely what will happen,” he said.

Bennett identified Patrick Ryan, chairman and chief executive officer for the Chicago Olympic Committee, and Mayor Richard Daley as the two major driving forces behind Chicago’s bid.

“Daley sees the Olympics as a legacy project,” he said.

Chicago is bidding for the 2016 games along with Prague, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Baku, Doha, and Madrid. The International Olympic Committee will make its choice in 2009.