Sunday, March 28, 1999

Regional plan boosts supply of venues

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Basketball, gymnastics and track and field present unique venue challenges that will have to be solved if Greater Cincinnati is to be host to the 2012 Olympics.

        Tickets are a huge source of the revenue side of the Olympic budget, so having good-sized venues is important. In Atlanta, ticket revenues were nearly a third ($500 million) of the $1.7 billion budget.

Map of possible venues
        Where do the biggest share of ticket revenues emanate?

        Gymnastics, track and field, soccer, baseball, basketball, equestrian, tennis and boxing.

        Those events are housed in the biggest venues.

Close enough to build
        Does the Cincinnati region have these venues? The better question is: Does the region have enough such venues that it should concern itself with building the ones it doesn't have?

        Nick Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012, says it should.

        “We did a comprehensive feasibility study — people who know what it takes to do the Olympic Games — and they said, based on ... the inventory of facilities that exist not only within Greater Cincinnati, but within the 100-mile radius, "we believe that it is reasonable for you to pursue this effort,'” Mr. Vehr said.

        Cities outside the Cincinnati region — but within the 100-mile radius — that would play host to Olympic events would get them for two reasons:

        • There is an appropriate facility there.

        • There is an “emotional hook” for sending it there.

        “For example, taking boxing to Freedom Hall in Louisville is a natural,” Mr. Vehr said. “Is it a done deal? Do we have commitments from the city of Louisville? No. But there's no downside to the city of Louisville doing it. They have the facility, the boxing tradition ... An $80 million Muhammad Ali center is in the process of being financed and getting ready to be built. It's a museum commemorating Ali, a study center for (Parkinson's) disease, a major cultural and educational institution.”

        Cincinnati 2012 has identified where some events could be staged, but realizes it's a long time before 2012 and those suggestions could change many times before then. Still, the group is hoping to have a solid plan in place for their official bid, which is due a year from now.

        Part of that bid is showing there are enough existing (or soon-to-be existing) facilities in this region that the rest can be built, borrowed or bargained for. And one thing Greater Cincinnati has going for it is a large number of medium- and smaller-sized venues.

        “We have so many things in place,” Mr. Vehr said. “The numbers of venues we have, especially the 7,000-to-12,000-seat arenas, is really phenomenal.”

        The Cincinnati bid doesn't have to be perfect in the sense of answering every question in order to be named the U.S. bid city.

        “We'll be viewed in the context of our competition,” Mr. Vehr said. “We'll be able to take people on more facility tours and show them photographs of existing buildings than any other city.”

Ready by decision time
        In 2002, the year the U.S. bid city is selected:

        • Paul Brown Stadium will be open; in Mr. Vehr's Olympic-sized dream, the home of the Cincinnati Bengals would serve as the venue for soccer and for the opening and closing ceremonies.

        • The Reds' proposed new park for baseball (a hugely popular — and fast-growing — Olympic sport) will be in the process of being completed. (Forty to 50 countries field Olympic baseball teams, and it's one of the bigger draws every year.)

        • The convention center expansion could be under construction.

        “Those are major, major facilities,” Mr. Vehr said.

        A strength of Cincinnati's bid is in its regional approach.

        Louisville, the birthplace and original training ground of Mr. Ali, is a natural site for boxing. (In Atlanta, there were three sessions of boxing a day for 7-8 days; average attendance per session, 15,000.) .

        Lexington has the Kentucky Horse Park, the finest equestrian facility in the world. (In Atlanta, there were 14 sessions of equestrian: average attendance was 33,000.)

        “And we haven't talked about Ground Zero for the 2012 Olympics,” Mr. Vehr said. “That's the billion dollars we're spending on our riverfront right now. It's the place for the world to gather (for the Olympic Games). It's the new park that will be between the two stadiums, and Sawyer Point, Yeatman's Cove and International Friendship Park, the plaza near the aquarium, the riverboat row in Covington ...

        “That's Ground Zero. Hundreds of water taxis going back and forth; people staying in hotels in Newport or Covington, coming to events in Cincinnati — people from another country who don't have a clue they've crossed a city boundary or state boundary ... The river is Main Street.”


Olympics Stories
First bid to lure Olympics one year away
- Regional plan boosts supply of venues
Cincinnati 2012 venues plan
Biggest challenge: Big sports need big locations
Convention center expansion might help
Gay rights issue could be an obstacle
Mass transit is a missing piece
Riverboats would increase hotel space