President Barack Obama is expected to be in Chicago some time this week to make known the worst-kept secret – his presidential library and museum will be put in Jackson Park, not far from the University of Chicago and the Museum of Science and Industry.
But if one goes back a decade ago, Obama was supposed to bring the eyes of the world this week on Chicago to a site just a little further to the north, as in Washington Park.
BECAUSE THAT WAS supposed to be the site where an Olympic Stadium would be constructed – an 80,000-seat temporary structure that would have the opening ceremonies and major events for the Olympic Games that are scheduled to begin on Friday.
As for Jackson Park, it too was supposed to be part of the Olympiad plan – the plan was for a stadium to hold field hockey events would be built there, and that facility eventually would be converted into fields where soccer could be played.
But we all know how Chicago’s bid to be the host city for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games fell through. It turned out that amongst the four finalist cities that were seriously in the running, Chicago literally came up Number Four – as in the first one that was knocked out of the running.
It seems the International Olympic Committee was determined to put the games in a city south of the Equator – and Rio de Janeiro was the only such city in the running that year.
NOW I KNOW there are people out there who will vociferously argue that Chicago is so much better off not having been chosen. All the construction that it would have taken to turn the South Side into a series of venues usable for international athletic events would have cost us a bundle.
And for all the whining and moaning taking place these days about the Zika virus and the chances that world-class athletes will wind up being infected while there, you just know that with the homicide rate in Chicago drawing so much public attention, there would be all the world speculation that a world-class athlete would wind up getting gunned down in the bad-assed streets of Chi-town.
All it would take would be one stinkin’ little incident and the world would be dismissing a Chicago Olympiad as being an even bigger mistake than the ’96 games that were played in Atlanta.
But I can ‘t help but wonder what could have been if we’d being hearing the Olympic theme echoing across the skies of Chicago, and countless renditions of national anthems from around the world providing inspiration to those world-class athletes getting a chance to say they performed their deeds here instead of Brazil.
IT COULD HAVE been an event of the scale of the World’s Fairs of 1892 or 1933 – something that could have gone into our history as a communal experience we all shared.
Something to show that Chicago is capable of a more serious public event than the Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza!
It also could have been the chance to put to use those parks of Washington and Jackson, which I suspect many people in the metropolitan area don’t know much about because they’re just the South Side. In fact, I literally know some people who can’t tell the difference between the two and think they’re just one large strip of open land.
If anything, Chicago needs to have a significant happening on the South Side so as to let people know the city does not come to an end at Roosevelt Road and that the French were being a bit ridiculous when they issued tourist advisories to their citizens saying there’s nothing of interest down south.
TO THAT END, it is good to know that the Obama library will wind up in Jackson Park. An attraction for many people who probably will have to look up on a map to see where it is, because otherwise they just think of it as generic South Side turf.
But an Olympiad could have been a once-in-a-lifetime event. And the fact that our officials had plans how to convert all the constructed athletic facilities into something the city itself could use permanently could have reduced that factor many cities experience of expensive Olympic stadia that wind up sitting vacant in the future while their construction bills continue to be paid.
And we could have seen events of inspiration that could have helped elevate our civic mood to a point where we overcome the malaise we feel these days in Chicago.