(WGN-AM)- A member of Mayor Richard Daley's team working to bring the Olympics to Chicago has quietly arranged to develop city-owned land near a park that would be transformed for the 2016 Summer Games, potentially positioning himself to cash in if the Games come here, a Tribune investigation has found.
Developer Michael Scott Sr., an early member of the mayor's Olympic committee, leads a group planning a residential and commercial project on lots kitty-corner from the proposed Douglas Park sporting venues, a location where land values could jump if the city gets the Olympics.
Nike store -- already has gotten crucial support from the local alderman, who has set aside the lots for Scott and his group.
The city generally sells taxpayer-owned lots for $1 apiece for affordable housing projects, and in other cases negotiates land prices.
Scott owns Michael Scott & Associates, a real estate development and investment firm. He also serves as president of the Chicago Board of Education, and was in the news earlier this week when he said he was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury looking into admissions to the city's elite public schools.
Scott's designs on the public land are sure to reinforce concerns of residents that it's the mayor's friends who would benefit from Daley bringing the 2016 Olympics to the city. The story is a familiar one in Daley's administration, where City Hall insiders have personally profited from even the most civic-minded of projects, from recycling garbage to building Millennium Park.
The development team includes six West Side ministers, some of whom are politically connected.
Scott, who acknowledged plans to develop the lots around Douglas Park, said he has done nothing improper and defended his roles as a member of Daley's Olympic committee, school board president and developer.
"I've had an interest in Douglas Park long before the Olympics came and will probably have an interest long after we get them or not," Scott said. "That's where I was raised, that's what I know, so if that's something that's punishable, I can't tell you that."
Scott got his start in politics as a housing activist in the West Side's Lawndale neighborhood, where he was born and raised. He has served under several mayors, including Harold Washington and Daley.
He was criticized in 1990 for his insider connections when he left his job as city government's chief cable administrator to go work for a cable company.
Earlier this year, Scott's roles as school board president and as a member of the city's Olympic committee stirred controversy.
In May, he asked all of the city's school principals to form plans to promote the Olympics. Teachers and union officials said Scott's tactics were heavy-handed and they feared retaliation if they did not support Daley's quest for the Games.
Daley first floated his vision of bringing the Olympics to Chicago in 2005 after previously dismissing the idea as too costly. He assembled an exploratory committee in mid-2006 that included Scott.
As Daley forged ahead with his plans, the exploratory team evolved into Chicago 2016, the committee spearheading the city's push for the Olympics.
When the committee unveiled its original ideas in summer 2006 for hosting the Olympics, Douglas Park did not figure in the plans, nor was the park part of revised plans unveiled months later.
By March 2007, however, Chicago 2016 announced it had again tweaked its plans. Among the changes, Douglas Park would play a role in the Olympics: The aquatics center would move from the University of Illinois at Chicago to the park.
Ald. Ed Smith (28th) said he had pressed the Olympic committee to put a venue on the city's West Side. He said he originally wanted an Olympic swimming pool to be built at Westinghouse High School in his ward. Smith said he had met with members of the Olympic committee, including bid chairman Patrick Ryan, but could not recall if Scott attended.
"I was adamant that we have Olympic activity on the West Side of Chicago. They came out and made the decision to use Douglas Park," Smith said. "I don't know who decided that."