Oct. 5, 2006
Vol. 26 No. 2

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    City’s Olympics bid proposal worth its weight in gold for South Side

    By Sabrina L. Miller
    News Office

    When Mayor Richard Daley announced in September that Washington Park would be the cornerstone for Chicago’s revamped 2016 Olympics proposal, it put a spotlight on the mid-South Side and, by extension, the University. That spotlight has the potential to be “extraordinarily positive,” said Hank Webber, Vice-President of Community and Government Affairs.

    “I’m extremely excited about this announcement and what it can mean for this community,” Webber said. “It creates an enormous opportunity to jumpstart community development.”

    When problems with an earlier proposal to stage the Olympics downtown along the lakefront put Chicago at a disadvantage with the United States Olympics Committee, Daley and the Chicago 2016 Committee focused the proposal on historic Washington Park just blocks from the University, with boundaries between 51st Street to the north and 60th Street on the south, and Cottage Grove Avenue on the east and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive on the west. President Zimmer is a member of the Chicago 2016 steering committee, which consists of business, political and other civic leaders in the Chicago area.

    Daley and Patrick Ryan, chairman of the Chicago 2016 Committee, flanked by area aldermen and community leaders at a Wednesday, Sept. 20 news conference, mentioned the University as an institution that would be a “partner” in the process of staging a successful Olympic games. They also said the games could bring an economic and cultural bounty to the Washington Park neighborhood and surrounding areas. The park, designed by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner Calvert Vaux, would be “restored to its original elegance,” Ryan said.

    The park is home to many popular festivals, including the African Festival of the Arts, and is also home to the DuSable Museum of African-American History as well as what is often regarded as the city’s best-organized cricket league. Daley added that the games also would provide jobs, housing and other economic benefits for the community.

    The revised plan, submitted to USOC officials on Friday, Sept. 22, calls for University athletic centers to be used as warm-up facilities for athletes. The plan also calls for Washington Park to be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies in a temporary, 95,000-seat stadium that would be downsized to 10,000 seats after the games, track and field events, open-air festivals and the Olympic Cauldron. Chicago is a finalist competing for the U.S. bid against San Francisco and Los Angeles, which held the games in 1932 and 1984.

    “The indirect effects have the potential to be large and extraordinarily positive,” Webber said. “The fact that they would propose doing this in Washington Park is something that would not have even been considered 10 years ago.”

    Webber said there was a time when 55th Street “seemed very far away from downtown.” But with development in the South Loop extending past Cermak Road, and revitalization in North Kenwood and other near-South and mid-South neighborhoods, the Olympic plan makes perfect sense, Webber said.

    “It shows that there is a sense of great vibrancy on the South Side and that all of these factors were taken into consideration and symbolized by this announcement,” Webber said.

    About the specific impact on the University Webber conceded, “logistically, we have a lot of work to do” but that the decade between now and 2016 offers some breathing room. “It’s in 2016 fortunately we’ve got some time,” he said.