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Taxpayers facing more Olympic risk

BIGGER GAMBLE | Planners cut estimate of surplus, consolidate sites

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December 12, 2008

Chicago 2016 Olympic planners Friday revised their venue plan to turn an even brighter spotlight on Washington Park and Northerly Island -- and lowered their projected surplus by $225 million because of the moribund real estate market.

The revised, $500 million surplus will reduce the level of protection shielding Chicago taxpayers and force the City Council to reaffirm a $500 million Olympic guarantee approved in March 2007.

The initial guarantee assumed a Chicago Olympics would turn a $525 million profit and that -- even if it lost money -- a $200 million private sector cushion provided by Olympic Village equity and the sale of stadium skyboxes would shield taxpayers.

Now, Chicago 2016 is cutting costs by eliminating skyboxes at the temporary Olympic stadium in Washington Park.

And Olympic Village equity -- generated by the sale of air rights above a truck staging area for McCormick Place -- has been removed because of the depressed real estate market and because the $1.1 billion village is moving to the campus of Michael Reese Hospital.

The bottom line is that Chicago aldermen will be asked to roll the dice once again -- only this time, it'll be a bigger gamble.

"We're briefing the aldermen now. We're giving them all the information. We've been very transparent. We think the plan is still very solid and that taxpayers are well-protected. So, we think we'll earn the support of City Council on this," said Chief Financial Officer Paul Volpe.

Chicago 2016 Chairman Pat Ryan said he's "buying insurance" to shield taxpayers even more and remains confident they "will not be burdened by hosting the Games."

But Ryan acknowledged that federal charges against Gov. Blagojevich could complicate his efforts to get the General Assembly to deliver on the governor's unfulfilled promise of a $150 million guarantee by the first week in April, when an IOC evaluation committee arrives in Chicago.

"We need it," he said.

Washington Park and Northerly Island were already expected to play major roles in the city's venue plan. But now they'll be starring in the Olympic production.

•  •  The aquatics center would be moved from Douglas Park to Washington Park.

•  •  In addition to beach volleyball, Northerly Island would host sailing and canoe-kayak, formerly planned for Lincoln Park.

•  •  Douglas Park would be the site of a velodrome for track and BMX cycling events, formerly planned for Northerly Island.

•  •  The Olympic hockey venue at Jackson Park would be relocated in response to community concerns.