Paving the way for 2016

By SpencerRoush

On Oct. 2 the International Olympic Committee will decide the fate of Chicago’s quest to become the next host city for the summer Olympic and Paralympics games in 2016. City officials have been working to get the support of the IOC through extensive construction and landscape planning and by informing Chicagoans of how the Olympics could change the city.

Many Chicagoans are still debating if the changes the Olympics could bring would be ideal for the city’s urban landscape, transportation, real estate and overall economy.

Jayne Alofs, a broker’s associate for Jameson, a real estate organization, who is an expert in West and South Loop real estate, said the Olympics could stimulate the real estate market in some neighborhoods that are near the financial district, but the real estate on the South Side probably won’t see as much activity.

“I think that the Olympics could certainly stimulate [the South Loop],” Alofs said. “Before we started to have the economic downturn, that was one of the hottest neighborhoods in the city. It’s one of the neighborhoods that’s been most developed and it got hit pretty hard.”

Alofs said there are many apartments to rent in the South and West Loop neighborhoods right now because the demand for them is low due to the economy.

“If we get the Olympics, I think we will be able to get rid of a lot of the inventory that is hanging around that market,” Alofs said. “I think it’s going to really stimulate that neighborhood both residentially and commercial. There is going to be a greater population and a greater demand.”

Alofs said that location is always the key when it comes to real estate, and if the Olympics are hosted in Chicago it will probably raise prices in the Loop neighborhoods where many college dorms and apartments are located. She said potential renters for the games will probably begin looking at spaces to rent after the host city is announced because rent prices will rise as it gets closer to the Olympics.

Brian Maddox, executive director of the Associate of Subcontractors and Affiliates of Chicago said, “The impact will be felt not only in the city of Chicago but in all the other outlying suburbs within the state of Illinois and the surrounding states as candidates and potential athletes come here to begin to train during the season and off-season to begin to acclimate [themselves] for summer in Chicago.”

He said the athletes will be impacting the economies of Chicago and surrounding suburbs by utilizing their athletic facilities, staying in hotels or other accommodations and using food and beverage venues throughout their training process.

Maddox said the Olympics will also help the construction market because of all of the new building plans that are taking place in parks and also the buildings that will need to be renovated to suit Olympic needs.

“Winning the Olympic bid—and I am confident that we will do that—will boost the Chicago market almost immediately and for many years to come in the area of construction,” Maddox said.

Maddox said bidding on the construction projects will take place within the month of October, after the host city is announced. Construction projects will start rapidly after the jobs have been distributed among companies.

“The IOC and the city of Chicago will institute requirements so that we most dramatically utilize local talent, local subcontractors and local skills and employ people locally to complete these projects,” Maddox said. “So, it would be a great win for the city of Chicago and local subcontractors.”

The Association of Subcontractors and Affiliates of Chicago is a non-profit trade association that represents the subcontracting industry and its affiliates. The association has 427 member companies. Maddox said ASA Chicago wants all of their member companies to meet the requirements set in place for Olympic contractors which include safety, training and other pre-qualifications, so they can receive many of the construction jobs.

“Our group worked very closely with 2016 to do a number of building projects for the evaluation committee visit, including building out the 20th floor of the Fairmont hotel where the IOC was hosted for a week,” Maddox said. “We gave our subcontractors and contractors very high visibility there and we got most of the materials donated or at a very reduced rate, so that we put ourselves in good standing with the 2016 committee.”

Maddox said being “green” was a priority for the IOC and also Chicago’s city officials during the building and deconstruction of the games. He said they want to make sure venues are scaled down to a size that would be conducive to public use after the games are over. For example, after the Olympics are over, the pools used for the games will be deconstructed and moved to other parks and neighborhoods for public use, he said.

Making the Olympic Village compact and having only a 15-20 minute drive to all of the other venues was also a priority, Maddox said, and more bus lanes and train cars will be added to cut down on slow transportation time and to accommodate everyone.

Laurel Kroack, the chief of the Bureau of Air at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, said that because there will be many travelers coming into the city, the cars and trucks will give off gas emissions which could lead to poor air quality. She said the addition of more buses and train cars would most likely alleviate the problem and stabilize the needed standard of air quality.

“My understanding of the 2016 plan is that they hope to serve most of the venues and visitors with expanded mass transit, which will keep the density of vehicles down,” Kroack said. “Hopefully the rest of the citizens of Chicago commuting in and out of the city will take advantage of those additional services as well.”

Maddox said the logistics of transportation and how to accommodate for all of the Olympic travelers is still currently being worked out. The Chicago Olympic Committee has also consulted with other cities such as Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Atlanta on how to handle large crowds.

“An improved transportation system is a legacy that the Olympics can leave behind,” Maddox said.

To read more on the other side of the Chicago Olympic debate, check out next week’s issue.