Hopeful members of Chicago 2016 and Mayor Richard Daley are in Switzerland, presenting their bid to the International Olympic Committee.
Chicago's Olympic planners told the IOC members who will vote on the city's chances later this year, that they could be assured of robust games in a spectacular setting, with no worries about financial viability. And to prove the point, they agreed to sign a host city contract which puts the city on the line for any potential shortfalls.
Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan called the city's presentation at Olympic headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, a "fantastic opportunity" to make the city's case.
"It gives us an opportunity to learn," Ryan said, calling the IOC questions about Chicago's plan "impressive," and evidence that they have taken it seriously. He called the session a "robust dialogue, which covered the waterfront."
The Chicago bid team, which included Mayor Daley, 2016 president Lori Healey, Venue Chief Doug Arnot, USOC Vice President Bob Ctvrtlik, and World Sport Chicago President Michael Conley, made a 45 minute presentation, followed by 45 minutes of questions from IOC members. Ctvrtlik said he told his audience that Chicago games would be a watershed event for the Olympic Movement.
"We think Chicago 2016 represents a truly historic opportunity," Ctvrtlik said, noting that the Chicago plan envisions taking the Olympic experience to urban centers across the United States. "The City of Chicago is incredibly powerful. You have a mayor who is committed to grow and back sports."
For his part, Ryan said he stressed financial safety. Chicago is the only one of the four bid cities which does not offer a federal government guarantee. But Ryan said he and his colleagues promised "A new model, which mitigates financial risk and spreads that risk among public and private sources," which Chicago's backers contend is much stronger than what government can do alone.
"A Chicago Games will open up what is largely an untapped corporate community," Ryan declared, promising "private philanthropy for a public purpose". He noted recent projects in Chicago built with the aid of private dollars, including $400 million for the new modern wing of the Art Institute. "If you go to Millennium Park, $200 million was donated!"
But the IOC wanted more, and they got it. Chicago has agreed to sign what is known as a host city contract, essentially putting the taxpayers on the hook for any potential losses. Most observers agree Chicago had to sign the agreement, because their three competitors, all backed by their respective federal governments had agreed to do so.
Before making the agreement, Mayor Daley sought an additional 500 million dollars in insurance, which organizers say would be tapped before any taxpayer dollars would become necessary. A 2016 official said for the money to be tapped, Chicago's games would have to lose more money than "all previous Olympics combined," which he contended is an extremely unlikely scenario.
The Chicago presentation featured two videos, one from presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, pledging President Obama's full support for the bid, and a second one, featuring Olympic and Paralympic athletes giving a guided tour of Chicago's proposed venues. Decathlon Champion Brian Clay showed proposed Olympic sites on the lakefront and in Washington and Jackson Parks; paralympian John Register explained the concept of hosting sporting events, and the Olympic Broadcast Center at McCormick Place; boxer David Diaz toured west side sites, and paralympian Linda Mastandria explained the venue concept in Lincoln Park.
"We want our guests to be able to walk out of a sports venue, into the heart of our city," said venue chief Doug Arnot. "The very center of the City is a huge park," he noted for an audience who in some cases have never visited Chicago, saying that the Chicago venues would be "surrounded by the culture of the city."
Once again, Chicago's bid team stressed the compact nature of the city plan, and the proximity of venues to mass transit. 2016 President Healey promised a "world class and unforgettable" Olympic Village, to be constructed on the site of the existing Michael Reese Hospital, where 90% of the athletes could enjoy a 15 minute commute to their competition venues.
Healey noted that the city boasts 115,000 hotel rooms, and said the 2016 planners have secured commitments for at least 78,000.
"I know the people of Chicago are very excited," Daley said. "This is an opportunity for us to change the course of history." Daley told the IOC members his administration is already stressing Olympic values in Chicago Public Schools. "We plan to create a global legacy," Daley said. "I pledge that Chicago will be that type of city."
Ryan said he was impressed with the questions asked by the IOC members in attendance. "Frankly, they were quite versed on the bid book," he said. "It was impressive how they had done their homework."
The Chicago presentation, like those of their three competitors, was offered in a closed door setting. But in his remarks at the press conference following Chicago's presentation, Ryan made clear that Chicago's assurances of financial security were a prime area of emphasis. Asked by a reporter about the global recession, Ryan said, "We can say that this is a very robust economy, even though it's in very tough times like the rest of the world."
While President Obama is expected to present Chicago's closing argument in Copenhagen next October, the White House video submitted in Switzerland featured only the low-key Jarrett offering assurances of the President's full support. Arnot said the candidate cities were instructed beforehand not to have celebrities or dignitaries as part of their presentations, and Ryan said "I thought she expressed the President's thoughts very well."
Chicago's pitch has been marred by the presence of representatives of the opposition group "No Games Chicago", who traveled to Lausanne asking for an audience with IOC members. They were denied that request before they left for Switzerland. But after learning of Daley's decision to sign the host city contract, the group blasted the development as one more step in a road to potential financial disaster.
"Are the people of Chicago prepared to mortgage their future, and their children's future, to pay for the 2016 games?" said spokesman Rhoda Whitehorse.
Earlier, Ryan said the No Games group had refused to meet with his staff. "We do respect their opinion", said Ryan, "But they don't understand our financials", contending the group's members were not "representative of our population."