- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago has rolled out the red carpet for kings and queens, presidents and movie stars, not to mention Bulls and Bears. But this week a few VIPs most people have never heard of get the royal treatment as the city tries to land the 2016 Olympic Games.

Mounir Sabet, Alexander Popov, Dr. Ching-Kuo-Wu and a few others from an International Olympic Committee delegation will inspect the city in its first stop during the competition against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid or Tokyo. It follows meetings last week in Denver where each city made a 20-minute presentation.

Chicago officials have been busily rehearsing, paving, practicing, painting and planting. For example, they’ll make sure IOC members see two Millennium Park fountains in all their glory, just they way they are when they become one of the city’s top summertime attractions.

“We usually wait until April 15, but the water will be turned on” when the committee arrives, said Jill Hurwitz, cultural affairs department spokeswoman.

Workers are also trying to finish renovating the famed Buckingham Fountain ahead of time. Around the city, community groups and businesses have planted flowers in parks and planters along streets. And in this season of gaping potholes, work crews are laying down fresh asphalt in Washington Park, where the Olympic stadium would be built.

Roads departments spokesman Brian Steele said crews are working across Chicago, not just near Olympic venues. Still, he acknowledged, “We wanted to complete those streets prior to the IOC visit.”

In Denver last week, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro officials all talked specifically about the slow global economy as part of the presentations to the IOC members. Chicago bid leader Pat Ryan said he would go into detail about the city’s economic plan during this week’s visit. The delegation is scheduled to arrive Thursday.

Chicago plans an Olympics with 90 percent of the athletes within 15 minutes of their competition venues, all based around Lake Michigan.

Chicago also planned to greet each IOC member with someone who speaks their language and knows their countries’ customs. A.D. Frazier, the chief operating officer of the Atlanta games, said it’s a safe bet that the visitors aren’t caught in traffic during their tour.

“You think the IOC ever saw a traffic jam in Beijing?” he asked. “I guarantee you they never saw a traffic jam in Beijing.”

Chicago organizers acknowledge they’ve got detailed biographical information about each IOC member.

“We have done some research about some of the key cultural and other interesting spots that they might want to take a look at when they’re in town,” said Lori Igleski, Chicago 2016 director of events, volunteers and accommodations. “We have information at our fingertips of key places they might be interested in.”

Chicago organizers say 1,500 people would play some role in the visit: children were planned to be playing soccer during a visit to Soldier Field, where the NFL’s Chicago Bears play; at Lincoln Park, site of the proposed tennis venue, tennis players will be volleying.

Staffers have rehearsed each stop on the venue tour and the drive to get there. Judging by one recent rehearsal the media was allowed to watch, they will assure the IOC that Chicago, which hosted the 1933 World’s Fair at the height of the Depression, knows how to put on a big show during terrible economic times.

The city wants to tout its plan for environmentally friendly games, and planned to take the committee on its tour in an electric bus and a hybrid bus.

Along the way, they wanted them to see what organizers say is widespread support of the games _ thanks to full page ads organizers are taking out in local newspapers that readers can cut out and hang in their windows.

The IOC was also expected to see something that has been part of the landscape here for as long as anyone can remember: protests.

“I think a lot of people will be trying to take advantage of this moment for a variety of reasons, some legitimate and some not,” said Jitu Brown of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

Brown said the group believes that building the Olympic Village and other venues on the city’s South Side will speed the gentrification that is already displacing thousands of low- and middle-income residents.

But, he said, “we are not anti-Olympics,” just against displacing residents.

A group calling itself “No Games Chicago” says the city should be spending money on schools and housing, not the Olympic Games. The group plans a Thursday rally. And the head of the police officers’ union says there may be picketing to show their anger about the status of contract negotiations.

Chicago 2016 President Lori Healey said organizers won’t duck the issues.

If IOC members ask about picketing police officers, organizers will “tell them the truth, that they’re out there because they have an issue with their contract (and) it’s not directly related to 2016,” she said. “That this is a city where people express their opinions.”


On the Net:

Chicago bid: https://www.chicago2016.org

IOC: https://www.olympic.org/uk/index_uk.asp

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