WisBusiness: Wisconsin could benefit from Chicago Olympics

By David Wise

MILWAUKEE – The Brew City would likely see an economic boost, and perhaps rail transportation upgrades, should Chicago be chosen to host the 2016 summer Olympic and Paralympic games, the head of an organization working to put the games in the Illinois city said Tuesday.

Chicago was chosen last week as a candidate city by the International Olympic Committee, placing third out of four chosen. Tokyo made first place, Madrid second, and Rio de Janeiro fourth. The IOC will choose the winner Oct 2, 2009, in Copenhagen.

Patrick Ryan, CEO of Chicago 2016, told Milwaukee Rotarians at their weekly luncheon that the families of Olympians would likely occupy much of Chicago’s hotel capacity, leaving an opportunity for those in nearby cities like Milwaukee to offer hotel and transportation packages to the games for spectators.

Additionally, Ryan said more than 200 teams would be arriving weeks early to train, and some may use facilities in southeast Wisconsin.

“Southeastern Wisconsin, particularly the Milwaukee area, has an opportunity to benefit,” Ryan said.

Although Ryan said 65 percent of all the facilities needed are already in place, Chicago would require a more than $800 million investment in new facilities, such as an Olympic stadium and an Olympic village that would house all athletes. Chicago would also likely need to invest in upgrades to its transportation system, Ryan said.

Ryan pointed out federal transportation dollars flowed to Salt Lake City, Utah, when it hosted the games and said Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is looking to tap federal funds to get high speed rail flowing into Chicago from other cities.

“He has a mission to get federal funding to improve rail transportation feeding the Chicago area,” Ryan said.

But Ryan said the IOC is less interested in how the games will benefit an area and more interested in how the location will benefit the games.

Ryan said a strong point for Chicago is the ability to have all of the athletes stay in the Olympic village with events along the shores of Lake Michigan, in parks and other city venues within 15 minutes.

In other Olympic cities, Ryan said, participants in sailing, shooting and equestrian events often could not stay in the village because of the distance they would have needed to travel to access appropriate venues.

“We can give the athletes an unparalleled experience,” Ryan said.

Another strength is the level of public support for the games. Ryan cited polling data that showed 54 percent public support for the games in Tokyo, but 84 percent public support for the games among Chicagoans.

One of the barriers, Ryan said, is that the United State will not financially guarantee the games, whereas all other countries on the list have already done so. Another barrier is a dispute between the IOC and the U.S. Olympic Committee over USOC’s share of television and marketing rights. Ryan said other countries feel the U.S. receives too much money the deal negotiated in 1984.

“It’s a serious dispute. It was one that I was reminded of by almost every IOC member I’ve met in Athens,” Ryan said, adding that “It’s a deal that’s begging to get done” but the parties are “talking past each other” right now.

“If it doesn’t get done, we can’t win,” Ryan said.