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Opposition Grows Over Proposed Olympic Village

Chicago Defender, News Report, Wendell Hutson Posted: Aug 18, 2008

CHICAGO -- As Mayor Richard M. Daley takes in the Olympic festivities in Beijing, opposition mounts over a proposed housing complex that would be built in Bronzeville, should Chicago be awarded to host the 2016 Olympics

More than 100 community groups have joined forces to campaign for a legally binding written agreement with the city that would ensure local residents would not lose their homes or jobs if the Olympic Village is built in Bronzeville. The $1.1 billion development would be built on the site of Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, 2929 S. Ellis Ave., after it closes by year-end.

The Communities for an Equitable Olympics 2016, a nonprofit organization in Chicago, organized the campaign.

We want to make sure that residents and small businesses in Bronzeville are not displaced as a result of this project, said Shirley Smith, executive director of the North Kenwood Action Council, a non-profit organization. I dont think its fair to say we are totally against this project but we are opposed to the way the city has went about informing the community on it and the potential displacement it could cause.

Research shows that when the Olympics was previously hosted in U.S. cities such as Los Angeles, low-income residents and low-wage jobs were displaced, said Mary Carter, a spokeswoman for Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, which represents many of the low-wage employees at Michael Reese Hospital.

And while the hospitals closing had nothing to do with the Olympics, community groups said the city wasted no time in securing the property, which they said made them curious.

The hospital is not due to close until December and already the city of Chicago has hammered out a deal with the land owner for $85 million, said Pearl Tucker, executive director of Future Bronzeville, a non-profit organization. This puts pressure on the hospital to hurry up and move and scares off potential investors who may were considering lending a hand.

If the city does not get the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, the site would be sold to a developer.

The Olympic Village development plan calls for construction of a maximum of 7,500 permanent units and 1,000 rooms that could be converted into residences. A traditional street grid would also be created, along with retail, parks, schools and other amenities.

Bronzeville residents, especially those living in low-income apartment buildings, said they fear their buildings would be converted into condominiums if the city wins the Olympics.

I am afraid that if the city wins their Olympic bid, it would displace many of us poor, Black folks, said Cathy Weatherspoon, 88, who lives at the Lawless Gardens apartment complex at 3550 S. Rhodes. My building is three blocks from the Olympic Village site, and I cant see the city spending all that money to build the darn thing knowing that welfare folks live a few blocks away.

Lawless Gardens is owned and managed by East Lake Management and Development Corp., a Blackowned real estate company in Chicago. Eileen Rhodes, a vice president at East Lake, said the company has no plans to sell the 750-unit building or convert the predominately low-income units into condos.

We have owned that complex for some years now and are not looking to sell or redevelop it into condos, Rhodes said. Many of the tenants there have lived there for years so they are like family to us, and East Lake treats its family well. Some seniors are also worried because of their fixed income.

I am on a fixed income, and I cannot afford to go nowhere else. I have lived here for 20 years, and if the Olympic Village causes me to move, I do not know where I could go and still be close to the lake and have good public transportation, said Marian Jefferson, 76, who lives in the Lake Grove Village complex at 3555 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Its just not fair that we have to be displaced for some people who will only be here for the summer. Thats crazy if you ask me. Chicago is competing against Tokyo, Madrid and Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics. A decision on where the Olympics will be held is expected by October 2009.

Related Articles:

Beijing Olympics Promote Lost Arts in China

Chicago's Olympic Bid Stokes Gentrification Fears

The Other Olympics -- China's After School Program Crisis

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