2016 olympics picture


2016 olympics ground

Chicago 2016 has proposed building the Olympic Stadium, home to the opening and closing ceremonies, in the South Side's Washington Park. The park would also house an aquatics center. Community members say these structures may displace athletic groups already using the park.

Chicago Park District throws hat in ring for 2016 Olympics

Forty-five years ago Robert Pickens wrestled opponents to the mat in the Tokyo Olympics. On Wednesday evening he voted to help bring his old ring to a new city: sweet home Chicago.

In a chorus of ayes, The Chicago Park District’s Board of Commissioners approved a report read by Vice-Chairman Pickens. The vote authorized General Superintendent Timothy Mitchell to negotiate on all park district matters pertaining to the 2016 Olympics. Dissent came only from several community members seated in the back of the room.

“It’s a collaborative relationship,” Pickens said at the meeting, which Mitchell attended. “The [agreement] was to show the intent--and also the level of support--that we as a municipal agency are planning to give to the Olympic request.”

The commissioners’ vote was part of a citywide effort, Board President Gery Chico said. He expects that organizations including the University of Illinois, CTA and Cook County will soon create similar agreements for cooperation. Mayor Daley, who appointed Mitchell as Park District CEO in 2004, is a strong advocate for bringing the 2016 Olympics to Chicago. Washington Park on the city's South Side would be a central focus of the games.

Before the vote, several members of the Washington Park Advisory Council, including Leroy Bowers, founder of the Intergenerational Baseball League, aired their concerns about the park, including possible adverse effects from the Olympics.

Bowers formed the baseball league last year to provide activity, mentoring and coaching for troubled young men in the Washington Park neighborhood. He attended Wednesday’s meeting to thank the board for supporting his inaugural season and to request increased assistance for the next.

With the district facing financial difficulties, Superintendent Mitchell said he would have to take a look at the park district’s budget before committing to the league. Bowers could face larger problems than lack of funding, however.

Bowers’ 500-person league meets May through October in Washington Park, the proposed site of both 2016’s opening and closing ceremonies and the Olympic aquatics center.

“I’m going to lose my fields,” Bowers said after the board meeting. “And it’s going to affect all of our [Chicago Public Schools] elementary and high school after-school baseball teams.”

Bowers and his fellow council members said they were working on a community benefits agreement with Fourth Ward Alderman Toni Preckwinkle. They hope the agreement would include promises to restore any fields lost to the Olympics and to re-fit some permanent Olympic facilities for baseball.Perhaps by 2016, said Bowers, baseball will be an official Olympic sport.

Once the Chicago games have ended, said Chico, the park district board would meet to discuss how to use the remaining Olympic facilities.

“These are rather extraordinary commitments,” Chico said. “On the other hand, it is a rather extraordinary opportunity that’s before us.”

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