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Taking the 'No Games Chicago 2016' opposition case direct to the IOC in Lausanne

By Tom Tresser

I live in Lincoln Park and have been working in the arts, local economic development and civic engagement in Chicago since 1980. In 1993 I went to work for Peoples Housing, a grass roots community development organization in east Rogers Park that developed and maintained low income housing. I organized a community arts program that combined culture, education and micro-enterprise. In 1995 I got a Master's Degree in Urban Development from the Spertus College Urban Developers Program.

Through my decades of work and research in sustainable development I have reached the conclusion that the best way for a city or region to achieve equitable, sustainable and meaningful economic progress is by maximizing the creativity and talents of its people.

Over the past 15 years I have fought large-scale wrong-headed projects put forth by the Daley administration that would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars and benefited a handful of developers to the detriment of the larger community. In 1994 I was part of the state-wide coalition that defeated Mayor Daley's push to bring casino gambling to Chicago.

Over the past two years I've helped organize opposition to the growing privatization of the public's assets for the benefit of the few. I helped found Protect Our Parks to stop the Latin School from grabbing two acres of priceless Lincoln Park lake front for a private soccer facility.

I am opposed to the 2016 Olympics because it is the epitome of large-scale, Loop based projects that require major construction and which are designed to serve the in-bound tourist market. I estimate that the 2016 Olympics would cost up to $10 billion based on the cost of summer games over the past few cycles (this includes venue and athlete housing construction, operations, security and city services).

Spending so much money for a three week party is a horrible waste of precious resources and will do nothing to bring lasting and equitable economic development to our communities.

A report by Prof. Victor Matheson, “Mega Events: The effect of the world’s biggest sporting events on local, regional and national economies” (Download) exposes the lies told to us by the 2016 Olympic Committee. They claim the 2016 games will bring in billions. In the report, published in 2006 by the Department of Economics at the College of Holy Cross, Prof. Matheson says “The most important piece of advice that a local government can take regarding mega-events, however, is simply to view with caution any economic impact estimates provided by entities with an incentive to provide inflated benefit figures. While most sports boosters claim that mega-events provide cities with large economic returns, these same boosters present these figures as justification for receiving substantial subsidies for hosting the games. The vast majority of independent academic studies of mega-events show that the benefits to be a fraction of those claimed by event organizers.”

The state of Illinois is broke ($13 billion in the red) and the city is broke ($300 million deficit and climbing). Over the past few weeks the city has announced the layoffs of 1,000 employees of the Chicago Public Schools, 1,500 city workers and a 30% reduction of swimming hours for our beaches, The CTA faces $40 million in cuts and we are threatened with yet more service loss and fare increase and the state is such bad shape that social services across Illinois are facing with drastic cuts.

I am part of the No Games Chicago coalition which is composed of a diverse group of social justice activists, environmentalists, human rights advocates, park champions and good government geeks (that’s me). We are united in our opposition to Chicago’s bid to secure the 2016 Olympics.

We believe the games would be the single greatest disaster to befall Chicago since the Great Fire. The games would give us:

Debt - Chicago would face a mountain of debt to pay for the games. Montreal hosted the 1976 summer games and they took 31 years to pay off that debt. Vancouver (hosting the 2010 winter games) is on the verge of bankruptcy and London (hosting the 2012 summer games) is $9 billion over budget.

Destruction of public parks – Most of the venues for the 2016 games would be placed in our public parks, causing years of construction and disruption of the neighborhoods where they are located. The 2016 Committee proposes almost $900 million in construction for these venues, most of which would be torn down. This is unsupportable. The parks belong to all and Chicago needs MORE green space, not less. The Park District is cutting back staff and services and raising fees for their programs. We need to expand service and cut back fees, not spend hundreds of millions of dollars for facilities and events that almost NO ONE who lives in Chicago can afford to attend.

Displacement – When the games come to town, speculators and developers proposals are to the detriment of the poor and working poor families who live near the venues. Over the years literally hundreds of thousands of people have lost their homes due to the Olympics. Chicago will be no different.

Death of democracy – There are several major fraud and corruption investigations underway that are targeting city and state officials. The papers are filled with accounts of insider deals involving the former governor, the mayor, the mayor’s relatives, Alderman Burke and their close associates. The city’s own Inspector General has criticized the sale of the city’s parking meters as being a sweetheart deal that left billions on the table. The cash flowing from the Olympic consulting and construction projects would re-circulate back into the political action coffers of the mayor and his minions. I believe this pin-stripe patronage cash will be used to support the campaigns of Machine-backed candidates for the next 20 years. Say goodbye to democracy in Chicago.

For all these reasons I am opposed to the 2016 Olympics coming to Chicago. I have been working as a volunteer for No Games Chicago to derail the 2016 bid and I went to Switzerland on June 15 to say as much to the International Olympic Committee.


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