Chicago’s Olympic spirit running hot and cold

This week, in addition to my Wisch List column, I wrote a front-page news story for the Kankakee Daily Journal

Chicago’s Olympic spirit running hot and cold

By Dave Wischnowsky
For the Daily Journal

CHICAGO — This past Sunday afternoon, the Magnificent Mile was teeming with both tourists toting their shopping bags and Bears fans touting their favorite team as they made their way toward Soldier Field.

But except for a few flags and bus stop ads promoting Chicago 2016, the buzz along Michigan Avenue regarding the city’s Olympics bid was at a low-key level less than two weeks shy of the International Olympic Committee’s selection of the 2016 host on Oct. 2.

“I had actually forgotten about [the Olympics announcement] until we got to the Chicagoland area,” admitted Sarah Conroy, 27, of Normal, who was in town with her husband for a friend’s wedding. “It wasn’t until we got to the hotel that I saw signs and thought about it.”

The attention paid to the Olympics in Chicago – and throughout Illinois – is expected to increase considerably this week. On Friday, the IOC will gather in Copenhagen to choose the 2016 host from among Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, Madrid and Chicago.

The announcement, expected for between 11:30 and noon CDT, will be broadcast live in Chicago at Daley Plaza during a free pep rally that’s scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Other viewing parties may be held in the suburbs, according to a spokeswoman for Chicago 2016, but details are not yet available.

Earlier this week, talk show diva Oprah Winfrey announced she will join Chicago’s official Olympics delegation in Denmark. First Lady Michelle Obama is also on board for Copenhagen, while President Barack Obama is said to be keeping his travel options open. And all week long, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has spoken with increasing optimism that the city will emerge victorious in the Olympics race.

But, while Chicago’s celebrities and politicians may be enthusiastic about the 2016 Games, the question still remains: Are regular Chicagoans ready to embrace the Olympics, too?

The best answer might be both yes, and no.

“I think some people are still indecisive and not sure,” Nate Zaremba, 26, a resident of Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood said on Wednesday. “Especially among younger people who aren’t really sure how it will affect them.”

Zaremba said he supports the Olympics bid in large part because he believes it will provide jobs in construction and other industries.

“My thoughts are that it will be a good thing for Chicago,” he said.

A recent Chicago Tribune poll, however, showed that since February support among city residents for Mayor Daley’s Olympics plans had dwindled from 61 to 47 percent and that economic questions are the critics’ chief concern.

“I think I would like to see the Olympics come to Chicago,” said Steve Martin, a 22-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service and a city resident. “But, the cost, I guess that’s the big thing. I’m sure real estate taxes will go up. Almost every [Olympic host] city has cost overruns, and who’s going to be picking up the tab?”

Daley acknowledged the skeptics earlier this week, saying that there are “a lot of questions still being asked.” He also called his bid team’s plan “very, very fiscally responsible.”

In June, the mayor promised the IOC that city government would back its planned $4.8 billion games with an unlimited financial guarantee to cover losses.

The bid team plans to purchase $1.2 billion in insurance coverage against losses for running the games as well as push for private developers to line up as much as $4 billion worth of financial guarantees to protect against construction cost overruns on the proposed athletes’ village and sporting venues. According to the team, no Olympics in history has arranged for so many financial protections as Chicago has.

On Tuesday, prior to his departure for Copenhagen, Chicago 2016 spokesman and Bourbonnais native Pat Sandusky appeared on Fox Chicago’s morning show.

“We have a great plan that the Civic Federation, the [Chicago] City Council and even the IOC has said that is unlikely to have any risk to even tap into that insurance let alone beyond the insurance,” he said. “We’d have to be well over, north of $2 billion over budget to hit the taxpayer.”

Daley this week also trumpeted his belief that the Olympics will transform Chicago’s global reputation.

“You don’t realize the importance, the global importance that Chicago will receive,” he told reporters. “If you get this, it’s a major, major coup for the whole marketing strategy of Chicago.”

Sandusky declined on Tuesday morning to call Chicago a leader in the race, but did express optimism.

“I certainly don’t think it’s in the bag for any city,” he said. “This is a great race between four great cities. However, I think it’s natural going into final preparations to feel optimistic. I’m glad that the mayor does. I would think all mayors of all four cities would and should as they go into this …

“It’s going to be a sort of white knuckle ride before the end. We’ll all know Oct. 2.”