My friend Hank Kalet offered a prescient look last week about the potential pitfalls of Chicago being awarded the 2016 Olympic games. The following day, the IOC sent Chicago packing in the first round of voting in a move that could have been for the best for the Second City.
Grand visions, sometime half-baked, of post-Olympic redevelopment, housing, various ratables, etc., often get lost in the municipal process. There are successes, of course (Olympic Village in Atlanta becoming dormitories for Georgia Tech, for example), but in the case of Chicago, the potential risk levied on the taxpayer could have reached upwards of $2 billion. according to The Chicago Tribune. Plus, there’s the risk of public monies going toward these projects and it’s the developer that wins out in the end.
The postmortems of a failed Olympic bid are not unfamiliar terrain. Sure, I was rooting for Chicago: who wouldn’t? But what better way to lick our wounds than to look at the “what if?” scenarios had Chicago actually been on the hook to hold the Olympic Games seven years from now? Victor Matheson, an economics professor at Holy Cross wrote in an Op-Ed in 2005 called “Luck of the Draw” after New York City lost to London in its bid for the 2012 games:
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the Olympics would have added more than $12 billion to the economy and generated 135,000 jobs. Experts who study the impact of sporting events on the economy, however, uniformly find that such estimates routinely overstate the effect of mega-events like the Olympics on local economies. A study of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, which I conducted with Prof. Robert A. Baade of Lake Forest College in Illinois, found that the Games there generated as few as 3,500 new jobs, a tiny fraction of the 77,000 new jobs predicted by the local organizing committee in the run-up to the Olympics.