Would the Olympics benefit Chicago's Latino community?

I was asked to look into this question for Contratiempo magazine, a local Spanish-language publication here in Chicago. I interviewed Hispanic community leaders and politicians for this story. You can link to my story here in Spanish or read it here in English.


One of the biggest champions of the 2016 Olympics in the Latino community has been the United Neighborhood Organization or UNO. Their CEO, Juan Rangel, is a member of the Olympic Outreach Committee. He sent out a mass email from UNO recently touting the following financial benefits of the Olympics in Chicago.

Supporters of the 2016 bid say that the Olympics would be a $22.5 billion economic stimulus for the city and state that would create the equivalent of 315,000 jobs for one year.

They say there would be an additional $1 billion from a variety of sources, including sales and amusement taxes that would help support education, law enforcement and other city services.

And they say there would be a substantial increase in federal funds for roads and mass transit, and the Olympics would bring an additional 3 million international tourists to Chicago each year.

But would any of that trickle down to Chicago's Latino community?

"It would be a tremendous boost to the Latino community as it would be to the city of Chicago," Rangel said.

But Martin Macias Jr., who is part of the No Games Chicago committee, said those financial benefits are inflated.
He cited a recent Crain's Chicago business story where an economist called those numbers into question. Atlanta projected the 1996 games would create a boost of only $7 billion and the Chicago jobs estimate is four times greater than what Atlanta predicted.

Critics have also said that the Daley Administration is underestimating the total cost of financing the games at $4.8 billion.

"The city has a lot of people convinced it'll be an economic boost," Macias said. "But if you look at the history of the Olympics every city has gone over budget."

Macias doesn't see a direct financial benefit for Latino neighborhoods in Chicago.

"I don't see any benefit unless we decide to build a great resort or hotel in the middle of Little Village," Macias said.

Macias also questioned why UNO has held pro-Olympics rallies involving Latino parents and their children at their charter schools.

"It's clear they just want to use Latinos (in support of their Olympic bid)," Macias said.

UNO has created a sort of Olympic challenge among the students at its charter schools to excel in academics, sports and the arts.

Rangel said people who criticize the involvement of schools and students in supporting the Olympic bid are "cynical."

"To think there may be something wrong with cheering for your hometown is crazy," Rangel said. "(You wouldn't) say that to a Sox or a Cubs fan."
Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward) said he is in favor of the Olympics in Chicago.

"I'm in favor of the Olympics because of the economic stimulus and engine it will create," he said.

But he said he is concerned about the cost going over budget and how the games will be insured.

"We need to make sure the taxpayers are not left on the hook," Munoz said.

Los Angeles, Atlanta and Beijing made a profit on the Olympics. But the 1976 games in Montreal took 30 years to pay off, according to Money Week.

Munoz said that Latinos will benefit in the hiring and noted the community benefits agreement that Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th Ward) has forged.

"There's a net benefit for the entire city and obviously Latinos will benefit too," Munoz said.

In April, the City Council passed an agreement with community groups that 40% of contracts related to the Olympics, such as construction or providing supplies and services, would go to businesses owned by women, minorities or people with disabilities. It also calls for 30% of the Olympic Village, proposed at the site of the former Michael Reese Hospital, would be converted into affordable housing when the games are over.

But it's not clear how much of that will go to Latinos.

Rangel, who also is a co-chair of the Chicago 2016 procurement committee, said they would work to guarantee Latino business benefit from the Olympics.

'We can use the Olympics as an economic engine to jumpstart some of the businesses in our neighborhoods," Rangel said.

But there are no venues planned in a Latino majority neighborhood.

This is why Raul Raymundo, executive director of the Resurrection Project, doesn't see a huge impact for the Latino community.

He said that if the city had stuck with the original plan to building the swimming complex in Douglas Park that would have benefitted the Latino community.

But plans for the swimming complex were moved to Washington Park, and now the plan would be to build a velodrome, or a bike racing track, in Douglas Park.

"An acquatic center in Douglas Park would have benefitted the African-American and Latino community more," Raymundo said.

Raymundo said he doesn't see a long-term benefit for Latinos if the Olympics are held in Chicago.

"There are very few tangible benefits that can be left behind for the Latino community," he said.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th Ward) agreed.

"I think it's going to be a non-issue for a lot of us. A lot of the activity is not in our region or in our wards," Cardenas said.

Chicago is competing with Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to host the 2016 Olympics. The winner will be announced by the International Olympic Committee on October 2.


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  • Is there anything you DON'T dislike?

    I think you should rename this blog "Things I Dislike."

  • Perhaps on an individual level but the games could prove to be devastating to the community especially when it comes to TIFs.

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