Far from spending too much cash on the Olympic games, Chicago's plans are actually too conservative and uninspired, say leading Chicago economists.
"You have to spend enough to make your city a surprise city," said Dr. Robert Baade of Lake Forest College. "And Chicago is not spending nearly enough!"
The economists spoke about the city's financial approach to potentially hosting the games during a public discussion at Northwestern University Wednesday evening. Besides Dr. Baade, the discussion included professor Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, Dr. Larry Bennett of Depaul University, and first ward Alderman Manny Flores.
None of the economists said the Olympics would be a bad idea for Chicago, but they had a few warnings about the course the city is taking.
"Chicago has the opportunity to reinvent itself, but that's not in the plans," said Baade, who expressed the rarely spoken opinion that the 2016 blueprint is not ambitious enough. "The investment that Chicago is making is very modest."
Baade returned to that theme repeatedly as the evening wore on, warning that because the city's planners had been, in his eyes, conservative in their estimates, they had left nothing which would be remembered as a lasting legacy of the Games.
"When you consider, what do you do with an equestrian site or a kayak course, it's much more difficult to integrate elements like that after the Games. Once the circus has left town, what do you have left?"
Thus, Baade is one of the few voices asking if the city's Olympic planners shouldn't actually be spending more money. "You have to spend enough to make your city a surprise city," he said. "And Chicago is not spending nearly enough!"
Then there is the "be careful what you wish for" warning.
"I don't want to be cruel in my examples here," said professor Bennett, "but Munich didn't get a bounce from 1972!"
Bennett said he knew he was bringing up a delicate topic, but added that it would not take such a violent event to leave the world with bad memories of Chicago games.
"The telecommunications system can break down. The weather can be miserable. The local transit system cannot provide the kind of service it ought to. And the European journalists come in and write about Chicago, the way they wrote about Atlanta in 1996!"
The University of Chicago's Sanderson offered a corollary, with his belief that the temporary stadium was a bad idea. Sanderson has long believed that the remodeled Soldier Field was a colossal eyesore. "I would probably knock it down, and have the stadium be there. And make it permanent! Why not, in terms of legacy, give us something we could use for the next 50 years?"
Cautionary tales aside, most in the room seemed to believe Chicago continues to be the city to beat for the Games, although all agreed the competition is tough. And Bennett offered one cheery coda: "If we don't get the Olympics, we'll be just fine!"
The event was sponsored by the website "A Balanced Discussion", which is currently involved in a lawsuit over their web address, Chicago2016.com. It is NOT the official website of the city's Olympic committee, and the two sides are currently at loggerheads in court. Organizer Steve Frayne seems to be a believer that the city will most likely get the Games, because he says he plans similar forums every year for the next seven years.
The entire event can be viewed at the website, www.chicago2016.com