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4 North American Cities Whose Olympic Bids Flamed Out

Chicago

Far too often for cities that successfully bid on hosting the Olympic Games, the risks outweigh the rewards. The host cities are responsible for building the sites where the games will be held, in addition to the feasibility studies, planning, hiring consultants and travel required to sell the International Olympic Committee on a bid.

Even the costs of a failed or pulled Olympic Games bid can have long-term ramifications on the cities that organized the bids. Here are four cities in North America that have either failed to secure an Olympic Games, or relinquished the opportunity.

Chicago

The Chicago skyline
The Downtown Chicago skyline

The U.S. Olympic Committee selected Chicago as a candidate to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in January 2009. Mayor Richard M. Daley and civic leaders put together an impressive package to woo the 2016 Summer Olympics to Chicago at an estimated cost of $4.8B, including $1.2B for an Olympic Village on the Michael Reese Hospital site that would become affordable lakefront housing after the games. The city bought the Reese site for $85M in 2008.

The Chicago 2016 Olympic Committee raised $73M in private donations for the bid, and newly elected President Barack Obama joined the committee in Copenhagen to sell Chicago's pitch to the International Olympic Committee.

It was not enough.

Daley's purchase of the Michael Reese Hospital site was a budget buster his successor, Rahm Emanuel, had to deal with once he took office. The debt on the site grew to $96M by 2013, and the city refinanced the debt in January 2017 before selling the site to a venture led by Farpoint Development last July. The site, now called the "Burnham Lakefront," is one of 10 that Emanuel is pitching to Amazon as a possible second headquarters in Chicago.

Boston

A skyline view of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts
A skyline view of Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts

The U.S. Olympic Committee selected Boston in January 2015 as a candidate for the 2024 Summer Games, but the cost overruns for the 2012 London Olympics and 2016 Rio Games steeled opposition to the bid. Community groups like No Boston 2024 argued that public funds earmarked for the bid would be better spent on improving the city.

The Boston 2024 Partnership submitted a revised budget for the games, but it did little to assuage opponents' concerns. Ultimately, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh pulled the bid, and the U.S. Olympic Committee nominated Los Angeles to take its place. Los Angeles will instead host the 2028 Summer Games.

Denver

Denver Skyline

In May 1970, the IOC selected Denver to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, edging out Vancouver, Sion, Switzerland and Tampere, Finland. Although the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee claimed it would cost $30M to host the games, Denverites opposed to hosting the games noted the 1972 Winter Games in Sapporo, Japan, cost $70M. Additionally, Denver residents realized they would be paying for the necessary infrastructure improvements to host the games and had growing concerns about hosting events in the Rocky Mountains.

The DOOC eventually said it underestimated the financial costs and environmental impact the games would have, and in November 1972, Colorado voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative to authorize a $5M bond issue to finance the games. A week later, Denver relinquished its status as host and the 1976 Winter Games were ultimately held in Innsbruck, Austria. Today, an exploratory committee is researching a possible 2030 Winter Olympics bid for Denver.

Toronto

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
The Toronto skyline, as viewed from Billy Bishop Airport

Toronto has made five attempts to host an Olympics, most recently in 2000 for the 2008 Summer Games. The plans included three staging grounds along the Lake Ontario waterfront, an Olympic Village built on remediated industrial wasteland and a 100,000-seat stadium. Prior to the IOC's vote, then-Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman made derogatory remarks about the city of Mombasa, Kenya. Toronto lost the final vote to Beijing, China, and reports suggested Lastman's remarks influenced the vote.

In 2014, Toronto's economic development committee voted against pursuing the 2024 Summer Games, estimating a bid would cost up to $60M. Mayor John Tory reaffirmed Toronto would not seek the 2024 or 2028 Olympic Games after the 2015 Pan American Games.