Chicago 2016: Let The Civic Battles Begin

When the United States Olympic Committee
(USOC) announced that Chicago would be the country's bid city for the 2016
Olympic Games, Chicago's political and business leaders rejoiced in
their joint victory.[1]  Nearly a year after Chicago Mayor Richard
Daley formed the Olympic exploratory committee, and nine months after
being named one of the U.S. finalists, the USOC threw its support
behind the city that has quickly achieved front-runner status in
international phase of the selection process.[2]  Like most sporting
events, the modern day Olympic Games are big business.  As such, Daley
and Chicago 2016 Chairman Patrick Ryan created a
comprehensive bid detailing the financial and logistical components of
a potential Chicago Olympics.[3]  Yet, while public support of
Chicago's bid remains high, some community groups are voicing
opposition to elements of the plan.[4]  Specifically, political (and
potential legal) clashes are being waged concerning the proposed use of
public funds, public land, and a local nature preserve.

The Chicago 2016
Proposal projects an Olympics budget of $5 billion, including $1.1
billion for the construction of the Olympic Village, $366 million for
the Olympic Stadium, and $80 million for an aquatics center.[5] 
Initially, Daley stated the funding would come exclusively from private
investors, with Chicago 2016 projecting a $525 million
operating surplus.[6]  That changed, however, after USOC Vice President
Bob Ctvrtlik indicated that a large-scale project such as the Olympics
could not proceed without the guarantee of public money.[7] 
Subsequently, Daley and the Chicago city council approved $500 million
in the event of a shortfall, while the state of Illinois has proposed
an additional $150 million.[8]  Daley has also received a $500 million
guarantee from private investors.[9]

Despite the additional $1.15 billion in guarantees, Chicago 2016 may have to ask the city for greater financial coverage if its
bid prevails, and the second wave of funding could be substantial.  The
2012 Olympics in London, initially budgeted at $4.6 billion (U.S.
dollars), has nearly tripled in costs to a new estimate of $17.6
billion.[10]  The 2004 Olympics in Athens reached a total of $12
billion, while the final cost of Beijing's 2008 Games, first budgeted
at $23 billion, is too speculative to predict.[11] 

Chicago is not immune to cost overruns either.  The city's
residents have not forgotten that its last major civic project,
Millenium Park, jumped in cost from an initial projection of $150
million to an actual $475 million when it was completed four years after its targeted date of completion.[12]  Yet If Chicago 2016 asks the city council for a
blank check after winning the bid, it would be nearly impossible for
the city council to say no.  Even if public opposition to additional
spending is high, it would be an international embarrassment if the
city council did not acquiesce.  Thus, Chicago's aldermen, who have a
reputation for siding with Daley, could face angry constituents if the
financial burden of the Olympics falls on the shoulders of Chicago's

The location of the proposed Olympic Stadium has fostered
political opposition as well.  Community activists from the south side
neighborhood surrounding Washington Park are expressing discontent with
the city's plan to build in their park.[13]  Chicago's bid calls for
the erection of a temporary 80,000-seat stadium on one of Chicago's
largest green spaces.[14]  Upon completion of the Games, the stadium
will be reduced to a 5,000-seat amphitheater.[15]  If the Olympics come
to Chicago, however, the 350-acre park park that hosts softball,
baseball, soccer, cricket, and tennis leagues will be off-limits to
local athletes, picnickers, and residents for four years.[16]  Some
residents of the south side community are expressing fears that
neighborhood redevelopment, buoyed by the Olympic Stadium, will push
them out of the area.[17]  Many are angered that the city could find
money for the Olympics when it has been slashing its parks budget and
does not have an indoor field house at any of its public high

Friends of the Parks, a Chicago advocacy group who supports the
Olympic bid, opposes the use of an open space such as Washington Park
for the Olympic Stadium.[19]  To date, however, the watchdog group has
no plans to file suit, as it did in a 2002 attempt to halt the Soldier
Field renovation project.[20]  In Friends of the Parks v. Chicago Park District,
the advocacy group sought a judgment declaring unconstitutional a
provision of Illinois Sports Facilities Authority
Act, which authorized the funding and construction of the Soldier Field
renovation.[21]  Although Soldier Field is owned by the Chicago Park
District, the plaintiffs argued that the use of public funds to
primarily benefit a private entity such as the Chicago Bears violates
the Illinois Constitution.[22]  The Illinois Supreme Court disagreed,
professing its deference to the Illinois General Assembly in
determining what constitutes a public purpose in the absence of evasive
or deceptive legislative findings.[23]  Thus, the renovation continued, and Soldier Field reopened its gates in September 2003.

While the battle over Washington Park intensifies, citizens of
north suburban Lake County are organizing to oppose the proposed site
of the Olympic Equestrian Center.[24]  The plan calls for a 3.8-mile
equestrian trial, in addition to a 15,000-seat stadium, to be built in
the Lakewood Forest Preserve.[25]  Lakewood is a 2,748-acre nature
preserve that is home to seventeen endangered plant and animal species,
including the sandhill crane, and a 70-acre bog that is a national
natural landmark.[26]  Biking, driving, and picnicking are heavily
restricted in the area, and environmentalists fear that the bulldozing
and paving will cause permanent damage to this fragile ecosystem.[27] 
Following a 17-0 vote by the Lake County Forest Preserve Board in favor
of allowing Lakewood to host the equestrian center, a local group
called Voters For Preservation has organized to fight its inclusion as
a potential Olympic site.[28]

Despite some of the contentious issues involved in Chicago's
Olympic bid, the proposal seems to have caught the eye of the
International Olympic Committee (IOC) as well as competing cities.  The
Chicago plan has been praised for concentrating its venues near
downtown Chicago, placing the majority of the 10,000-plus athletes at
the lakeside Olympic Village in close proximity to the venues, training
sites, and parks.[29]  The USOC says the the Village housing plan
exceeds Olympic space requirements and will create a communal feeling
amongst the athletes.[30]  Additionally, Daley's leadership adds
another perceived strength to the bid, especially when coupled with
clout of Illinois' high-profile U.S. Senators and Chicago 2016 supporters Dick Durbin and Barack Obama.[31]

Chicago is one of seven cities expected to make a bid for the
2016 Olympics, with Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, and Prague thought
to be the other serious contenders.[32]  Lower-profile applicant cities
Baku, Azerbaijan, and Dota, Qatar, are also in contention.  [33]  In
June 2008, the IOC will announce the finalists, and the penultimate
vote will take place on October 2, 2009.  If Chicago fails to win the
selection, these conflicts will undoubtedly fade away, at least for
four years.  But should the city secure the rights to host the 2016
Games, the political and legal battles over the use of public lands and
funds will escalate as Chicago begins construction for the Olympic


1 Tribune Staff Report, Chicago Won The Bid … What's Next?, CHI. TRIBUNE, Apr. 15, 2007, available at,1,6134299.htmlstory?coll=cs-international-utility. 

2 Jay Levine, Olympic Experts Put Chicago In Lead For 2016 Games, CBS2Chicago.Com, Sept. 14, 2007, (last visited Sept. 28, 2007).

3 Tribune Staff Report, surpa note1.

4 Ben Joravksy, Will The Games Displace Their Games?, CHI. READER, May 11, 2007, available at

5 Philip Hersh, Chicago Scores U.S. 2016 Olympic Bid, CHI. TRIBUNE, Apr. 15, 2007, available at,1,7736769.story?page=1.

6 Id.

7 Id.

8 Id.

9 Id.

10 London Olympic Cost May Hit 17.6B, CNN.Com, Feb. 24, 2007, (last visited Oct. 12, 2007).

11 Beijing Games 2008 – China Bets Big, CNBC.Com, Aug. 1, 2007, (last visited Sept. 28, 2007).

12 Chicago Finally Gets Its Millenium Park, USA TODAY, May 16, 2004, available at

13 Joravsky, Games Displace, supra note 4.

14 Id.

15 Fran Spielman, With Or Without The Games, CHI. SUN-TIMES, Jan. 24, 2007, available at,CST-NWS-oly24.article.

16 Joravsky, Games Displace, supra note 4.

17 Id.

18 Id.

19 Kathy Bergen, Philip Hersh, and Gary Washburn, Changes In Plans For Chicago Olympics Bid, CHI. TRIBUNE, Sept. 20. 2006, available at,1,5092664.story?coll=cs-international-print.

20 Chicago Stadium Ruling, N.Y. TIMES, Apr. 26, 2002, available at

21 Friends of the Parks v. Chi. Park Dist., 786 N.E.2d 161, 162-163, (Ill. 2003).

22 Id. at 163.

23 Id. at 167-168.

24 Ben Joravsky, They Say Nay, CHI. READER, July 6, 2007, available at

25 Susan Kuczyka, Lake Panel To Seek A More Open Area For The Olympic Venue, CHI. TRIBUNE, Aug. 3, 2007, available at

26 Id.

27 Joravsky, They Say Nay, supra note 22.

28 Id.

29 Hersh, supra note 5.

30 Id.

31 Id.

32 Kathy Bergen, Chicago Faces Tough Rivals For Olympics, CHI. TRIBUNE, Sept. 28, 2007, available at,0,2797407.story.

33 Id.