Rio's Rings

Rio's Rings

Rio’s Olympic Park, designed by BCMF Arquitetos, will play host to the Summer Games in five years.
Courtesy Rio 2016

Despite the full-court press of the Chicago 2016 bid team, led by Mayor Daley and First Lady Michelle Obama, with a last-minute appearance by President Obama, Chicago was the first city eliminated by delegates of the International Olympic Committee. Tokyo was swiftly knocked out as well, and Rio de Janeiro ultimately prevailed over Madrid. Rio will be the first city in South America to host the games.

As the design and construction industries struggle to emerge from the recession, many in Chicago’s architectural community had looked to the Olympics as a major boon. “It would have been a stimulus package of sorts, something I don’t see coming from any other area,” said Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of AIA Chicago. Had the Windy City been selected today, he believes some stalled projects would have come back on line, especially hotels. The games, he said, would also have given the city an edge as it seeks federal funds for transportation and infrastructure improvements.

But for preservationists working to save the Gropius buildings at the old Michael Reese Hospital campus, which would have served as the Olympic Village site, the outcome may be a reprieve. Jim Peters, president of Landmarks Illinois, hopes a developer will now step forward to save some of the vintage structures on the 37-acre campus. “The advantage now is, without the Olympics, you don’t need Olympic uses to go in there, which made it harder to reuse some of the buildings,” he said.

Advocates on both sides of the fight see the redevelopment as an important step toward better connecting downtown and the South Side. “It’s an extremely convenient location,” Esposito said. “We’re reconsidering many areas near downtown. It’s startling to see how quickly many of these areas have changed.”

While the city owns the Reese site and will be looking to recoup the $85 million it paid to acquire it, preservation advocates argue that profit should not be the main motive that shapes its future. “Mayor Daley could make the redevelopment of that site one of his legacy projects,” said architecture critic Edward Lifson. “If he develops it to the standards of Millennium Park, it could be as lasting as having the Olympics.” The modernist legacy currently deteriorating there, he argues, could even be the impetus for an architecturally ambitious new design. “If you are going to tear down great buildings, you’d better replace them with something edifying,” he said.