If Chicago gets Olympics, trickle-down tourism expected downstate

Tim Landis

Don’t look for a track-and-field event in central Illinois, or even an equestrian competition for that matter, if the Olympics come to Chicago in 2016.

But there is that prospect of a few million visitors just up the road.

Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Tim Farley said Wednesday his office has had discussions with state tourism officials about the potential for spin-off events and spending if the games come to Chicago, which is among four cities picked as finalists.

He said he has been told that any competitions held outside Chicago probably would be confined to northern Illinois, or to the athletic facilities of major universities, including the University of Illinois.

“It would be huge for Illinois,” Farley said. “But one of the factors Chicago was resting its hat on is that Chicago has such good facilities, a lot of it will be confined to the Chicago area. The athletes won’t have to travel four hours to get to events, as they would in some other locations.

“It’s a big thing just to make the final four.”

However, Farley said Springfield and other downstate tourism destinations would benefit from visitors streaming into Chicago from around the world.

“Obviously, from a tourism standpoint, with Lincoln and the proximity to Chicago, we should get a trickle-down from the visitors side,” he said.

Events at the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, the last time the Olympics were held in the United States, were spread across Georgia, said Maggie Large of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“It did provide a lot of lasting economic impact for our state. It’s often considered the launching point for Atlanta as an international city,” said Large.

A University of Georgia study concluded the 1996 games resulted in $5.1 billion in spending in the state, including $1.3 billion from out-of-state visitors. Those games created 77,000 jobs and left the state with world-class athletic facilities, the study said.

Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or