Soldier Field Fiasco

Olympic X Factor?

The sad state of Soldier Field's sod combined with the spectacularness of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium has Crain's sports blogger Ed Sherman wistful this morning about what might have been had the Bears built a better home edifice when it had the chance.

But there's another what might have been to that scenario: What might the city's Olympic bid have looked like if it had already had a stadium capable of holding opening and closing ceremonies instead of having to build a crappy temporary stadium in Washington Park?

It wouldn't have clinched the bid by any stretch, but it's reasonable to wonder if it might have been a bigger variable than whether President Obama shows up in Copenhagen to give a final sales pitch before the International Olympic Committee.

And who bears responsibility for a $632 million lakefront stadium - subsidized in part by taxpayers - that can't handle Olympic or Super Bowl crowds?

Mayor Richard M. Daley, of course.

Back then Daley was firmly opposed to hosting the Olympics. We'll never know what changed his mind.

And the new Soldier Field was a Daley special.

"As construction at Soldier Field advances," the Chicago Tribune reported in 2002, "a Tribune analysis of the $632 million project shows that the public bill for the stadium renovation is higher than city officials have said it would be while benefits to taxpayers - in terms of promised parkland and additional park revenues - fall short of what was promised.

"The bottom line is that the new Chicago Bears stadium will get one of the largest government contributions in the history of professional sports, a fact obscured by a public-relations strategy that tried to divert attention from the public costs."

Sound familiar? 

The Daley M.O. has been remarkably consistent; Soldier Field was rushed through the General Assembly in a secretive way not unlike, say, the recent parking meter deal - or any number of other Daley projects.

Like a child, what Daley wants Daley wants, and he wants it now.

But sometimes public debate is actually a good thing; on occasion it can lead to long-term thinking and a range of ideas that one man alone cannot conjure.

But that's not the way Daley operates. And that's why the Olympic bid follows no particularly thought out urban development plan - and neither will whatever follows.

Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.

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