Chicago has pulled out all the stops to impress the decision makers for the 2016 games. Please oh please oh please choose us!! seems to be their mantra.
Every effort has been made to prove that the Windy City has the venue chops to handle the hosting duties. But I'm wondering if the powers that be are putting those efforts in all the right places.
The Mayor's office got off to a good start by designing a clever logo to express our collective enthusiasm for the opportunity to pitch the Olympics. It featured the Olympic flame leaping out of the Sears Tower. Unfortunately, next thing we heard, the logo had to be re-designed because someone didn't follow the strict USOC logo guidelines properly. One can't use Olympic symbols, i.e., the torch, for logos like that. How embarrassing. One step forward, two steps back.
The Mayor's committee has since redeemed themselves by commissioning multiple artist's renderings of the lake front and parks, magically transformed into venues for the games. They also spent money to shoot a warm and fuzzy film about past and current Olympians from Chi-town. I'm sure someone ordered t-shirts too.
Whatever the USOC needs, they will get.
After successfully beating out three other competitors, including our full-time nemesis, New York, for the right to be the 2016 US Olympic representative in the worldwide competition, Phase II was launched. The Mayor himself traveled to to London, the host city for the 2012 games, to pick their brains.
Other committee members have visited the competition in South America and Asia to see what Chicago is up against. You would think a city as large and beautiful as ours wouldn't need so much advice. But we're like a gangly, shy girl who grows up and doesn't realize she's now just as pretty and smart as the others. A long time ago Chicago chose to embrace its designation as The Second City. For good or bad, it will always be embedded in our psyche.
It's not like Chicago is a bunch of rubes when it comes to city planning. The lakefront is lined with miles of lush green parks, picturesque harbors, and wide, sandy beaches. Industry had to go somewhere else. Eat your hearts out Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Northern New Jersey.
For decades the
Chicago School of Architecture has attracted sophisticated enthusiasts from all over
the world. We're considered a major architectural Mecca if you're into buildings.
This is where Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van der Rohe built
their fan base. But despite Chicago's reputation among the cognescenti for world class avant garde structures -- even Frank Gehry left something on his way through here -- the average Joe in Munich or Milan still thinks Al Capone roams the roads. For most of the world, we're still a shoot 'em up gangster town. And who wants to fly all that way for gunfire, when the middle east is right next door?
Of course, a few million in well placed advertising could go a long way to correct that perception. But the Capone problem is nothing compared with a couple of recent assaults on Chicago's reputation for cutting edge architecture. I'm afraid they could come back to bite us on the butt. And no amount of advertising can repair the damage.
The first assault was the construction of the International Terminal at O'Hare. The place looks like a hanger with a rug on the floor. For some reason, once passengers disembark, they are then required to walk and walk and walk and walk along endless, whitewashed corridors to get to customs. From time to time, the hallways are decorated with a smattering of murals and the occasional bench to break the monotony. But I've been in parking garages that are more friendly and inviting.
This poor excuse for a terminal, with all the charm of a prison block, is the first impression foreigners get when they arrive in Chicago.
When they leave our town, it's not much better. Unlike Heathrow, where you can shop at places like Liberty, Hermes, and Harrod's and eat all kinds of exotic food, the international terminal in Chicago doesn't even have a duty free shop. No chance for visitors to load up on a bag of Jelly Bellys or a box of Frango Mints. For sustenance, departing guests have to make do with McDonald's and a couple of other fast food joints. The dozens of food offerings in the three domestic terminals, including Wolfgang Puck's and Berghoff's, seem like four-star restaurants by comparison.
But my real concern is the assault which took place on the lakefront. The rape of Soldier Field. Since the Olympics are an athletic competition, our skills at building athletic venues will no doubt be scrutinizedfairly closely.
For the most part, Soldier Field has stood as a monument to Chicago football. Like most edifices that last more than fifty years, it was also designated a national landmark. In recent years, however, this beloved home to the oldest franchise in the NFL began to show its age and a new field was sorely needed. Except that nobody could bring themselves to tear the old place down. Especially since there was a large and vocal group of Bears' fans who were willing to lay down their lives to prevent its destruction.
So, in a compromise that still leaves me and many others scratching our heads, a new stadium was built inside [over? on top of?] the old stadium, and the result can only be described as embarrassing. The Chicago Tribune called the result an "Eyesore on the Lakeshore" and the "Mistake by the Lake."
For a city which prides itself on its excellent architecture, the new stadium is a travesty. It looks like a giant, gleaming, metallic flying saucer has landed smack dab in the middle of Soldier Field. Absurd is the only way to describe the effect. Anyone from out of town who drives by this monstrosity has the same reaction, "What in the world were they thinking?" The Park Service responded by removing the spaceship from landmark status.
If I were a member of the USOC, I would have serious doubts about any promises coming from the Mayor's office after getting a good look at the mess they made of Soldier Field.
However, so far, there hasn't been a word of concern.
Maybe they have been taking the USOC by the place at night.