Residents voice concerns about Chicago Olympic bid

North Side resident John Berchem says Chicago's Olympic bid will be worth it.

"The benefits to the city seem fabulous," Berchem says. "Sure, it’s going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. But, so what?”

South Side housing activist Ora Williams says she's concerned neighborhood residents will be displaced by Olympic-related development projects.

Their comments came during an event yesterday at the Union League Club previewing the city's Olympic bid book, which the Chicago 2016 committee will present to the International Olympic Committee on Feb. 12.

John Murray, vice president and chief of bid operations for Chicago 2016, presented an outline of Chicago’s strengths, including landscape, culture and people, and a look at the proposed locations for sporting venues and the Olympic Village. He also gave an overview of the benefits the games will bring to Chicago.

"It's not about trying to out-do a city like Beijing," Murray said, noting the Chinese capital's preparation for the games last summer. "It's about pointing the way to Chicago and putting our own stamp on the Olympic festival for the millions of people in the city and billions of people around the world."

Details of how the city will deal with transit, housing and public safety were scarce during his presentation.

Some of the nearly 100 people in the audience asked questions about the Olympics’ impact on the city, particularly how the games will be paid for and their impact on Chicago taxpayers.

“Our bid is 100 percent privately funded,” Murray says. “Tax dollars are not going to be used to host the games. However, Mayor Richard Daley has said that he will use tax-increment financing to pay for the development of Olympic Village. The City Council approved the plan without debate earlier this month.

Christine Svenson, managing partner of Svenson Law Offices on the North Side, was not convinced. “I think the taxpayers will still lose somehow,” she said.

Others were more forgiving. Berchem said Murray "ducked a lot of the questions, I can understand why. Some of those topics are not in his area (of expertise)."

Williams, a member of Housing Bronzeville, said she's concerned about plans to build the Olympic Village on the Michael Reese Hospital site, which is in Bronzeville.

She said she wants promises that affordable housing will be built once the games are done.

"We need the information where (Chicago 2016) says they will commit to give us 26 percent affordable housing and agree not to displace Bronzeville residents," Williams says.

Chicago is competing against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo to host the games.  Once the official bid book is submitted to the IOC on Feb. 12, IOC officials will begin a weeklong visit to Chicago on April 2.  After that, Chicago 2016 officials will make a presentation to the IOC in June and the IOC will make its final decision on a host city on Oct. 2.