Sunday, March 28, 1999

Convention center expansion might help

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        When Nick Vehr lays out Cincinnati's bid to play host to the 2012 Summer Games, it would be nice to show the United States Olympic Committee a plan for an expanded downtown convention center.

        Nice, but not crucial.

        “There's no question that (an expanded center) would be tremendously helpful,” said Mr. Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012, the group trying to bring the games to town. “But does it have to happen to get the Olympics? No.”

        Civic and business leaders are pushing a plan to more than double the size of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center. Advocates say the expansion could be completed by 2004.

        Sports programming consultants hired by Mr. Vehr's group have recommended an even larger expansion, with exhibit space that could be converted to a 32,000-seat facility to host gymnastics.

        Mr. Vehr stressed that the idea hasn't been presented to convention center proponents and isn't part of the public debate surrounding the expansion.

        Still, an even larger expansion could be one of the biggest legacies left behind if the games were held here, he said. “When you're thinking 13 or 14 years ahead, it's time to think about those things,” Mr. Vehr said.

        Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center, with its whopping 950,000 square feet of exhibit space, was home to the 1996 Summer Olympics international broadcast center as well as seven sporting events, including fencing, judo and weight lifting.

        The Georgia Dome housed gymnastics, basketball and the finals of team handball.

        It's unclear, though, how big an exhibit hall Cincinnati would have to offer.

        Proponents of the convention center expansion have no funding for the project, estimated to cost $325 million to $350 million. And there is opposition to the expansion from conservative, anti-tax activists who argue the public shouldn't be asked to support yet another major building project.

        But having the venue space and infrastructure ready now is not as important as convincing the International Olympic Committee that the city would do whatever it takes to get ready in time for the games, said Laurie Olsen, who was director of communications at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

        “Just because you're not ready to host the Olympics now doesn't mean you won't be ready in 2012,” she said.


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