Kinks linger in Chicago's hopes to bid for 2016 games

Updated: August 10, 2006, 7:55 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Members of the U.S. Olympic Committee visited Chicago on Wednesday to provide feedback on the city's proposal to host the 2016 Games and to begin refining it with officials leading the effort.

"They have numerous strengths but significant weaknesses at this point," said Bob Ctvrtlik, the USOC's vice president for international relations, who attended the four-hour meeting at City Hall.

"We've given them suggestions and are cautiously optimistic that the team they've assembled will be able to come back with a workable solution," he said in a phone interview.

Ctvrtlik would not go into specifics about the pluses or minuses of Chicago's proposal except to say officials "will be working on various alternatives regarding the opening ceremonies stadium."

The committee members also will visit the two other U.S. cities bidding to host the games this week -- San Francisco on Thursday and Los Angeles on Friday. The USOC, which wants to help reshape the proposals to better position the cities for the international competition, is expected to decide by the end of the year whether to submit an American bid.

Chicago Mayor Richard Daley called the meeting between the USOC and the Chicago 2016 Olympic Evaluation Committee "productive and informative." Daley spoke at a City Hall news conference at which the city was honored as the best sports city in the United States in 2006 by the Sporting News, something Daley didn't shy away from linking to the Olympic bid.

One major and expensive question about the Chicago proposal has concerned an Olympic stadium, where opening and closing ceremonies are held. Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears, seats 61,500, while the stadium capacity for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and the 1984 games in Los Angeles was greater than 80,000.

Chicago officials have floated the idea of using both Soldier Field as well as a nearby temporary stadium.

Daley said the two-stadium idea is "still out there. And there's a lot of other options that could be out there too."

Asked whether the USOC told officials that opening and closing ceremonies could not be held in two stadiums, Patrick Ryan -- chairman of the Chicago effort -- said "not definitively."

"Did they tell us that we can't have two stadiums? No, they didn't tell us that," said Patrick Ryan, Aon Corp.'s founder and executive chairman. "The point is they're guiding. They're guiding us to what will win."

Backers of a Chicago Olympics have promised support from corporations, efficient mass transit, a city with ethnic diversity and compact events near downtown, framed by Lake Michigan's shoreline.

But they have released few details of their actual proposal, with the city's marketing director comparing that Wednesday to a sports team releasing its game plan before a championship game.

Ryan said the USOC members like the concept of events along the lakefront, but he indicated they were apprehensive about too much concentration of events, athletes and fans.

He said they also praised Chicago's public transit system -- especially its links between downtown and the airports -- its infrastructure, Daley's political leadership and how Chicago is perceived internationally.

But they made it clear the city would have to address security issues and make venue adjustments, Ryan said.

The next step is for the city's Olympic backers to complete a questionnaire due Sept. 22, but Ctvrtlik said the USOC would be in close contact with the applicant cities as they revise their proposals.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to choose a site for the 2016 Games in 2009. Observers have said this is the United States' best shot at landing the Olympics in years. The country last hosted a Summer Games in 1996 in Atlanta.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press