Chicago Tries Heavy-Hitters To Boost Olympic Bid

With one week to go until the International Olympic Committee selects the host city for the 2016 games, Chicago is hoping star power in the form of Oprah Winfrey and one of the Obamas will boost its bid. But how would hosting the Olympics really benefit the city that wins the competition?

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In just a week, the International Olympic Committee will meet in the Copenhagen. There, members will decide whether Chicago will host the summer games in 2016. The city is counting on one final push of star power to help with the bid. Heading to Copenhagen for the meeting, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, first lady Michele Obama and perhaps the president himself.

As NPR's Cheryl Corley reports, Chicago officials hope that with the games would come, not just prestige, but jobs.

CHERYL CORLEY: Billions of people watch the Summer Olympics on television. And it's not just the athletes in the spotlight, so is the city that hosts them. And the number of tourists who come to visit starts to climb. That's exactly what Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is counting on if Chicago is chosen over Tokyo, Madrid or Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 games.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): There is no single event to attract more visitors than that alone. That is a huge impact. And not just in 2016 but prior to that all the major, global publicity you receive.

CORLEY: Patrick Ryan, the head of Chicago's bid effort, says the Olympics also have social impact, evident in the city's plan to convert the Olympic village after the games into mixed-income housing.

Mr. PATRICK RYAN (Chairman, Chicago 2016 Olympic Bid Committee): We will recreate a residential area on the new South Side that will open up the lakefront, will open up the beach, will open up the lake use itself, will open up the parks to an area that has not had access to that.

CORLEY: The Olympic stadium will be built here in Washington Park on the city's South Side.

Ms. SICYLIA BUTLER(ph)(Head, Community Group): As a resident and a park lover this is something special, but there's a bigger picture.

CORLEY: Sicylia Butler is the head of a community group that supports Chicago's Olympic bid. She says the Olympics will help to motivate young people.

Ms. BUTLER: All we want to use is the Olympic as a carrot. To say: go to school, get an education…

CORLEY: And probably the Olympics will bring you a job.

Ms. BUTLER: Exactly.

CORLEY: Chicago's bid organizers estimate the Olympics could create as many as 315,000 jobs across the state for a year, mostly construction jobs and hospitality. But an independent analysis by a Michigan-based consulting firm, Anderson Economic Group, suggests that Chicago would reap only about four billion and not the $20 billion it predicts the Olympics would generate. At a recent neighborhood meeting, a spokesman for the opposition group, No Games Chicago, says the city's Olympic bid officials simply aren't being truthful. Tom Tresser, says the summer games held in Atlanta, and other cities that Chicago points to as success stories, really haven't been profitable.

Mr. TOM TRESSER (Spokesman, No Games Chicago) They keep forgetting to add the total costs of the construction, the operations and other expenses that the cities incur. So our figures show that host cities lose billions.

CORLEY: However Atlanta says it had a surplus, and Olympic organizers say no recent American games have lost money. Doug Arnot, a 2016 Chicago executive who worked for the Atlanta Games in 1996, says even in a worst case scenario the economic impact is enormous. But Arnot says money is only part of the story.

Mr. DOUG ARNOT (Executive for Chicago 2016): There are so many more good reasons for the city of Chicago to host the games and so many benefits that will inure to this city for generations to come.

CORLEY: One example already, says Arnot, is World Sport Chicago, a program that's being created to promote Olympic sports for children and young adults. The argument over the benefits of the Olympics may come to an end October 2nd, that's when the IOC selects the host city.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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