Sunday, March 28, 1999

Biggest challenge: Big sports need big locations




BY JOHN ERARDI
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        While there are plenty of positives in Cincinnati's bid to talk about, there is no question there are Olympic-sized venue challenges that have to be solved. Here are three of them:

        TRACK AND FIELD

        Miami University has a track capable of holding an Olympic-type competition today, but it doesn't have any stands, press box or the footprint around it to make housing the Olympics possible.

        “The key here is to find a community, a college or a university that is interested in developing a 5,000- to 10,000-seat, state-of-the-art, track/soccer complex that could be used for intercollegiate competition, state championships, regional championships ... to be the place for collegiate and high school track and field and soccer,” said Nick Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012.

        There would have to be a big enough footprint around that facility, however, that it could temporarily be expanded to 100,000 seats and be able to handle the crush of that many people.

        Then, after the Games you could take those stands out.

        “The technology exists to do that,” Mr. Vehr said. “We saw that in Atlanta. Half that stadium was temporary ... All we need is the core facility. That core facility could be the legacy.”

        Cincinnati is going to have to give the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) a pretty believable idea about the track issue if the bid's to have a chance of winning.

        Each of the nine competitive-bid cities has the same problem: They don't have an existing arena that can host track and field.

        “It's important for people to know you can't build (a track-and-field facility) for American football,” Mr. Vehr said. “Professional football teams don't want to be in the middle of a field surrounded by a 400-meter track with the fans so far away they can't read the players' numbers.”

        Mr. Vehr said no city has a leg up on Cincinnati in approaching this problem.

        Is there a market in Greater Cincinnati right now for a 8,000-10,000-seat track-and-soccer facility?

        “Absolutely,” Mr. Vehr said, who said such a facility could be built for $10 million to $20 million.

        GYMNASTICS

        This is one sport the Cincinnati core would not be willing to part with. First of all, because it is so immensely popular, but also because Cincinnati has become recognized as a training ground for female gymnasts.

        Amanda Borden and Jaycie Phelps, two of the members of the first-ever female gold-medal winning gymnastics team from the United States, were trained by Mary Lee Tracy, whose Cincinnati Gymnastics Academy is recognized as the premier gymnastics-training facility in the country.

        So, how does Mr. Vehr intend to keep gymnastics in the core?

        “Gymnastics is the stickiest problem of all,” Mr. Vehr said. “You could do it (in an existing facility), but the ticket capacity is so much more, you'd like to do it in another facility.”

        In Atlanta, there were 35,000 seats filled for the finals. The average ticket sales per session (men's and women's gymnastics combined) was 25,000. In one instance, there were 18,000 tickets sold for a practice session.

        “Our consultants have laid out a concept — it's just that, a concept; it's not a recommendation; we're not pursuing it aggressively right now,” Mr. Vehr said.

        “They suggested that in the context of the expansion of the convention center, that a large exhibition hall be developed that has the capacity to have (25,000 to 35,000 seats in it) that could be used not just for large exhibitions — you'd push the stands back into the walls — but also for Democratic and Republican national conventions or some of the large religious conferences, for an NHL or NBA All-Star game, for an NCAA men's or women's Final Four, to create a massive convention use as a complement to an expanded convention center.”

        BASKETBALL

Mr. Vehr says there are many options with basketball, but a key to keeping the medal games in Cincinnati would be the expanded convention center that had a 30,000-plus seat arena. Then, it could be staged in the same arena as the gymnastics, which was the case in Atlanta in 1996.

        If there is no such facility in Cincinnati, then the medal-round games would likely be played at an RCA Dome-type arena in Indianapolis.

        Indiana — with its indelible link to basketball through such legends as Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and John Wooden is a natural.

        Early-round games could be played at a variety of sites. There are two arenas in Columbus, one in Lexington and possibly three in Indianapolis (a new Pacers arena is under construction) that could be used during for both men's and women's basketball.

        That regional approach is the strength of Cincinnati 2012's bid. As Mr. Vehr points out, the Atlanta Olympics were held in Birmingham, Ala., Chattanooga, Tenn., southern Florida, Washington, D.C., Savannah, Ga. (“it's farther away from Atlanta than Cleveland is from us”) ... and Atlanta.

       



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