Time to save USOC deal is now

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“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things …”

Like some sadly dysfunctional family, the city, the United States Olympic Committee and LandCo are still maintaining appearances, publicly pretending that all is well, while their world collapses.

Earlier this week, the Business Journal published a comprehensive account online about the financial and legal difficulties facing LandCo and its principal owner, Ray Marshall. Given the depth and scope of the problems that were revealed, it seems highly improbable that LandCo and Marshall will be able to fulfill their part of the three-sided deal with the city and the USOC.

The city, for its part, is dealing with the consequences of the worst economic downturn in 20 years, and, confronted with plunging tax revenue, must cut both programs and people. The city is in no position, financially or politically, to come up with additional dollars to fund the USOC deal.

And the USOC is itself in turmoil, enduring the sudden and largely unexplained departure of popular CEO Jim Scherr, reduced funding and consequent layoffs that have affected 10 percent of its staff. In addition, the organization is distracted by a bitter and potentially damaging dispute with the International Olympic Committee, as well as supporting Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games.

Yet despite the various disabilities of the partners, it’s vitally important that the deal be done, and done quickly. If this city were to lose the USOC because of the community’s failure to follow through on a deal, the consequences would linger long after the USOC’s departure for greener pastures.

We would be seen, correctly, as a city with incompetent, delusional leaders, a city that makes promises that it can’t back up, a city willing to risk its crown jewel in a dubious partnership with an embattled developer.

As a prominent real estate broker told us after the story appeared, “If we lose the USOC, we might as well padlock the city and put up a ‘closed’ sign – we’ll be out of business for the next 10 years.”

There are admirably civic-spirited people working behind the scenes to save the deal. We hope that their efforts are successful – and we salute them for their willingness to put themselves, their companies and their reputations on the line for the benefit of our community.

But for their efforts to succeed, Marshall and LandCo need to gracefully step aside.

We acknowledge that, when the deal was created, Marshall had reason to believe that he could comply with the terms. But the economic crisis, not to mention his own fecklessness, may have made it impossible for him to perform.

Realistically, although Marshall might be unable to do the deal, he can, if he so chooses, block it, delay it and eventually kill it.

A new deal needs to be created, led by the same private sector stalwarts who have come to the city’s rescue during years past. At the same time, councilmembers such as Larry Small, Scott Hente, Jerry Heimlicher and Jan Martin need to step forward and exert positive, focused and realistic leadership.

The days of indecision and drift must end – neither the city, nor the USOC nor the community can afford further delay.

One Response to Time to save USOC deal is now

  1. I admire people who can use the word “feckless’ correctly and in context. “Fecklessness” is even better…

    It appears that word could apply to just about all the suspects in this deal, not just Mr. Marshall and LandCo ( aka Real Estate Advisor to the Stars!).

    The only honest and forthright players in this fiasco appear to be El Pomar, who committed money, and GEJohnson. The only parts of this deal that have worked are the parts they controlled directly. They stepped up first and they should lead any charge in salvaging the project. And let’s hope GEJohnson isn’t left holding the bag..the company deserves better than it’s gotten so far……

    The prominent broker quoted in the story needs to lock up his office and take off….sounds like you can throw him into the ‘feckless’ pot also……

    Actually, ‘prominent broker’ sounds s lot like ‘caring banker’, or ‘responsible city council’…an oxymoron, with the emphasis on moron……

    John Whitten
    March 27, 2009 at 2:14 pm