October 2, 2006

Going for gold: Olympics in Chicago

As Chicago moves forward with its bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, it is continuing to do something that is typical of our city: dream big. Despite initial popular plans to concentrate the Olympic events along the lakefront, near the McCormick Place Conference Center and Soldier Field, the layout has now been amended to place the main Olympic Stadium in our back yard, Washington Park. Located on the western border of campus, this 350-acre park would be an excellent home for the Olympic Stadium. The building of an olympic stadium in Washington Park will be extremely beneficial to general bid, the neighborhood, and the city as a whole. Just as the 1893 World’s Fair brought development and grandeur to Jackson Park and the Midway, an Olympic Stadium will do the same for the expanse to the west, Washington Park.

This dramatic shift will greatly benefit the bid as a whole, improving the City’s general chances of winning the games. As opposed to offering highly condensed facilities along the lakefront, the City can now showcase its diverse neighborhoods in addition to maintaining a significant amount of continuity. Lakefront venues such as Soldier Field and McCormick Place will still allow for made-for-TV shots of the shore and skyline, while preventing an overly crowded lakefront.

The neighborhood would also greatly benefit from the construction. The firm that is organizing this bid is none other than Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, the same organization that is working on the Freedom Tower at New York’s Ground Zero and that brought Chicago the Sears and Trump towers. Furthermore, the private partnership that has already come together to promote this project is one of tremendous merit. The collection of Chicago executives that is leading this bid does have the financial backing to follow through on the guarantee that tax dollars will not be wasted on the project, no matter how high the cost of the venture becomes. Not only can these men talk the talk, but they can surely walk the walk.

Those who are criticizing the plan, such as Aldermen and Mayoral candidates, are looking at this as an attempt for Mayor Daley to appeal to South Side voters. But that is beside the point, given the logistical benefits behind this move. While a large stadium along the lakefront could have only been serviced by Lake Shore Drive, the facility in Washington Park would be easily connected to both Lake Shore Drive (via the Midway) and the newly improved Dan Ryan. Additionally, it is clear that funds would go to improve the dilapidated Green Line, which runs within three blocks of the park on both the south and west sides. Improved public transportation routes and a more sensible location are just the beginning of the benefits behind a relocation of the facility.

For years, Washington Park has served as an insurmountable hurdle for prosperity, with stable Hyde Park on one end and an impoverished neighborhood on the other. Any individual who has taken the #55 bus within the past 20 years can easily note the difference. Despite its illustrious history as a Frederick Law Olmsted– and Calvert Vaux–designed park, it is currently a shadow of its former glory. No sensible individual would venture into the park after dark, and most have no reason to enter it during the day. Although the complete plan has not been released, there is no doubt that a construction project of this magnitude would not only create hundreds of jobs, but bring increased business investment to the neighborhood. The 95,000-seat stadium would be partially taken down to provide a 10,000 seat venue for after the games. Furthermore, our University would benefit via an expansion of the Ratner Center to include Olympic locker rooms.

Although Chicago still needs to beat out Los Angeles and San Francisco to win the American competition, the international decision will also be tight with cities such as Madrid and Rio de Janeiro already entering the competition. With the final decision being made in 2009, there is no doubt that this is going to be a long, drawn out process, but if we do win the honor to host the games, then truly, not only will the City of Chicago benefit, but so will the Washington Park community, and the needy South Side.