Chicago Olympic Bid Chief Downplays Taxpayer Burden, Reveals City Knew It Would Have To Ante Up

Chicago Olympic Bid Chief Downplays Taxpayer Burden, Reveals City Knew It Would Have To Ante Up

The head of Chicago's Olympic bid committee tried to calm anger Monday over Mayor Daley's disclosure last week that the city will sign a contract assuming complete financial responsibility for the 2016 Games. Scroll down to read the full AP story. The tone of the coverage of Pat Ryan's press conference was remarkably consistent-- and critical.From the Sun-Times' Fran Spielman:

Mayor Daley's Olympic planners knew several weeks ago that Chicago would have to sign a host-city contract that amounts to an open-ended guarantee from local taxpayers, but chose to keep it quiet.

From Crain's Chicago Business political columnist Greg Hinz, who called the event a "damage control press conference":

The head of the city's Olympics bid team Monday conceded that officials intentionally withheld news about a key shift in the city's Olympics financing scheme, but says they had to do so to keep the city's 2016 hopes alive.

Chicago Public Radio also played up the prior knowledge angle in its report.

Read the complete AP story from Don Babwin:

CHICAGO (AP) -- The head of the Chicago's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics sought Monday to calm jittery taxpayers and the City Council about the prospect of being on the hook for millions of dollars if the city wins the games, calling such a development "highly improbable."

Patrick Ryan's news conference came days after organizers told the International Olympic Committee that they would come up with an additional $500 million in private insurance and that Mayor Richard Daley would sign a contract requiring the city to take full responsibility for the games. While that was meant to erase any doubts the IOC might have had about the city's commitment to hosting the games, it prompted Chicago Alderman Joe Moore to demand that Daley explain his thinking.

As reassuring as Ryan sought to be Monday, it was clear that he recognized that local residents and the City Council now pose as much of a threat to the effort to bring the Olympics to Chicago as the other cities competing for the games.

"Of course we're trying to bolster public opinion," said Ryan, who has spent more than three years trumpeting the widespread support the bid has in Chicago and throughout the U.S.

Part of the furor over last week's announcement was that it seemed to mark a departure for the city, which has raised concerns about some guarantees included in the standard host city contract. After learning recently that the IOC would not accept any amendments to the contract, organizers decided they had to act quickly, with Ryan saying the intention was always to return to Chicago and lay out the specifics of the new $500 million in private insurance.

Ryan said he cannot see any development or even a catastrophe on the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina or the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that could use up what is now a $2.5 billion safety net.

"It is highly improbable that anything could go wrong that could eat through that amount of money, that amount of cushion," he said.

Ryan said organizers would take the matter to the City Council within the next 60 days, well before the IOC is scheduled to cast its vote on whether to award the games to Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo.

The council, which has already approved a $500 million guarantee against any operating losses, would then vote on the $500 million in private insurance.

If the council votes it down, that would effectively kill the bid, Ryan said.

"If the representatives of the public say no to this, then wouldn't that be the answer?" he asked.

Ryan did say that Daley does not have to sign the financial responsibility contract but that no city that has failed to sign has ever been awarded the games.

The way recent events unfolded has at least one alderman rethinking his support of hosting the games. On Monday, Moore, who voted for the first $500 million guarantee, questioned why organizers need 45 to 60 days to present the matter to the City Council.

"If they have it all figured out and we have nothing to worry about, then why don't we have a hearing next week?" he asked.

One thing Ryan will likely stress to the council is what he has said all along: That the games, expected to cost $4.8 billion, will be paid for by private financing.

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