Taxpayers on the Hook for Olympics Starting this Week

This morning’s Chicago Tribune features a story on the city of Chicago’s acquisition of the proposed 2016 Olympic Village site — assuming tomorrow’s “closing on the $86 million purchase of the Michael Reese hospital site” goes as planned.

But the story also carries some stark reminders of the financial problems that other major Olympic cities are facing — namely Vancouver and London, both of which have needed taxpayer bailouts despite promises of private financing.

The acquisition of the Olympic Village site carries substantial risks, given the moribund state of the credit markets, which has created wrenching problems for Vancouver and London. Both cities have had to bail out their respective Olympic Village projects, which, like Chicago’s, were supposed to have been privately financed.

And for Chicago, those struggling projects hover like specters, raising any number of questions. Will the lending spigot have opened sufficiently by 2012, when work is slated to begin? Will the city’s glut of new housing units have been absorbed by then? Will Chicagoans line up for condos and rental apartments that won’t be available until 2016, and only after they have been crash pads for several weeks for about 16,000 visiting athletes and coaches?

As we’ve written about before, Chicago’s track record on a large-scale projects, such as Millenium Park and the proposed CTA mega-station in the Loop, is less than stellar.  Given this track record of going over-budget and over-schedule, how can we expect anything different from the Olympics?

And, when that taxpayer bailout comes — will it be limited to the taxpayers of Chicago, or will Mayor Daley come looking for a handout from Cook County and Springfield, as well?