Saturday, October 07, 2000

Vehr picked a bad time to ask

        Nick Vehr is not asking for much. Not in the greater scheme of things. Not when you consider the potential return. The problem is that he's asking at all.

        Cincinnati's chief Olympic dreamer promises to fund the 2012 Summer Games from private sources, but he is seeking some public funding for the bid process. It is an idea that has so far gone over like a bowling ball on the balance beam.

        Hamilton County's stadium-buying binge has left John Q. Public a bit wary of further sports expenditures. Vehr's past pronouncements have failed to make clear his designs on tax dollars. To those who regard Cincinnati's Olympic ambitions as pointless folly, a request for public funds seems both unwelcome and unwise. To those running for political office, it is another chance to oppose spending in an election year.

        Potentially, it's a huge hurdle for Vehr and his plucky band of believers. If you can't sell a Cincinnati Olympics in Cincinnati, how do you presume to take the town global?

"There's confusion'
        “I think there's confusion over a distinction that is clear to those of us who are very close to the effort,” Vehr said Friday. “It's obviously not clear to those who don't live it every day. It's the distinction between the millions that need to be raised to get the bid — the vast majority that come from private sources — and the billions that are used to run the Games, which come from private sources.”

        Vehr is seeking a pair of $500,000 payments from the City of Cincinnati — one for 2001, another in 2002 — and is asking for similar support from other regional governments.

$2 billion, 67,000 jobs
        Considering the projected revenues the Games represent — including more than $2 billion in direct spending — Vehr's requests amount to relative pocket change. The big taxpayer costs would come in the form of infrastructure improvements. The big benefit, Vehr says, would include 67,000 jobs.

        San Francisco's Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee projects a $400 million surplus should it be allowed to stage the 2012 Summer Games. But because getting the Games is so difficult, public officials are reluctant to commit public funds to their pursuit.

        With eight cities competing for the right to represent the United States in the international bid competition, every 2012 candidate is a prohibitive long shot at this stage of the process. Should Toronto land the 2008 Games, the Summer Games might not return to North America before 2020.

        “By definition, the Olympic Games are something that should force people to think very long-term,” Vehr said. “It's not a matter of next year, but 10 years from now. This is all about the community's collective will and desire to think about the future. I think this community has the guts to do it.”

        Seated at the Fourth Street Skyline, Vehr confronts his most serious controversy like the practiced politician he is. He understands nothing sails through City Council without interminable posturing. He understands chasing the Olympics is a test of endurance as well as economics. He knows his efforts may be compromised by Bengals backlash.

        “No one's ever said this is going to be easy,” Vehr said. “No one ever said this was a slam dunk. The only thing that's for sure is we won't get it if we don't try.”



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