Chicago Spruces Up for IOC Visit
More than a dozen long-anticipated visitors from around the world are arriving in Chicago today, grade books in hand. They're members of the International Olympic Committee. They'll spend about a week sizing up the City of Big Shoulders and its readiness to host the 2016 Olympics. From landscaping along Lake Shore Drive to well-orchestrated tours, paid workers and volunteers have been getting ready to show the city in its best light -- at a cost that may be hard to calculate.
Cherry Chen and Peri Peng are among about 40 people cleaning the streets and sidewalks downtown. It's bitterly cold and windy. But they keep shoveling up broken glass, and picking up trash.
CHEN and PENG: Well, they're going to be here April 2nd to 8th in our neighborhood. And we just want to see how much we can do to help them move their decisions. We want them to see the best. Yeah. We the best here (laughs).
Beautification efforts like this one by the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents have been going on all over the city. Welcoming banners hang from streetpoles and buildings, even bridges. Several buildings are lit up in the colors of the Olympics. Some merchants planted flowers with snow on the ground. Like on the Magnificent Mile, where John Maxson heads the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association.
MAXSON: We've encouraged our property owners to power wash sidewalks, clean up alleys, make sure their dumpsters are in good shape, have top show windows, make sure the glass is clean, these kind of maintenance things.
IGLESKI: Just as if you were having company in your home, you would probably do what was reasonable to spruce it up. And that's what's going on. This is our chance to show our city at its best and we want to do that.
Lori Igleski is director of events for Chicago 2016, the private group behind the city's Olympic bid. Chicago 2016 has mobilized 1,500 volunteers to create the impression of a vibrant, friendly, diverse, well-run city.
And all the preparations aren't being done by volunteers. Wherever Olympic visitors will go, large numbers of city workers have been busy. They've picked up trash, put up 2016 flags and changed lights on street lamps.
Just business as usual, insist spokespeople for various city departments: They say the city's just sped up a few paving projects and is turning on Buckingham Fountain early. Otherwise, they say parks employees and streets and san workers aren't doing anything different.
PARK DISTRICT WORKER: Now is actually a bad time to be on the grass, because the grass is soft, and we could some damage. So it's better for us to do removals and things in the winter time, when the grass is hard.
At Washington Park, at least a dozen Park District workers are raking, pruning, and piling mulch around trees in perfect circles. One of the gardeners grinds up a dead tree stump. The men say this is their normal work, just on a different schedule.
WORKER: It's not really sped up. It's just more concentrated here. There are more parks in the system that need the same attention. We're just here to help out a little bit faster.
Parks, Lake Shore Drive, Buckingham Fountain. How much is the early spring clean-up? And who's paying?
Jodi Kawada is a deputy press secretary for Mayor Daley. She says if the city does anything above and beyond providing normal services, it will work with 2016 to get payment. So far, that includes painting some lightpoles, and there might be bills for public safety and traffic management provided during the visit.
Kawada says she doesn't have those costs yet. Otherwise, she says, what's going on is all in the normal course of cleaning the city, on the regular schedule.
That answer doesn't surprise Deborah Taylor, with the advocacy group Southside Together Organizing for Power.
TAYLOR: Well, they don't want to disclose how much it is costing, because it's going to cost the city too much, and they know there's too many needs going on right now that are being unfulfilled for them to take that money and spend it on the Olympics.
The Better Government Association is concerned about a related issue – a full disclosure of costs to taxpayers, especially if the city wins the Games. Dave Lundy is acting executive director.
LUNDY: You're talking about public investment of literally billions of dollars and we think it's important that we have complete transparency, that the city is far more forthcoming than they have been to date on costs, and that we know where the public dollars are going.
If the city wins the Olympics, Lundy says the BGA and other watchdogs will be aggressive in following the money. They can start with the spring clean-up bill for the Olympic visit.