Sunday, December 10, 2000

Olympics here a longshot

Cincinnati must submit bid this week for 2012 Games

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Nick Vehr claims the Olympics would bring $5.2 billion in economic benefits to the region.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        The bid to bring the 2012 Olympics to Cincinnati, due to be submitted this week, faces an uphill battle.

        Cincinnati 2012, the organization leading the effort, must get its 1,200-page official proposal to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) in Colorado Springs, Colo., by close of business Friday. The USOC will pick one American city to compete against the world for the 2012 Summer Games.

        Recent arguments over public money for promoting the bid may be brushfires along the road.

        But at least three major issues and several other difficult ones might hurt Cincinati in the competition among eight U.S. cities.

        The biggest obstacles:

        • The spread-out nature of event venues, with boxing in Louisville, equestrian events in Lexington and martial arts and wrestling in Columbus.

        • The lack of efficient transit to move large numbers of people between Olympic events.

        • The lack of a humongous downtown core with huge hotels and massive space to host the parties, meetings and general goings-on that are such a big part of the Olympic celebration.

        The seven U.S. locations competing against Cincinnati are Tampa Bay, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Dallas, Houston and Washington-Baltimore.

        “I believe the facilities are the core issue,” said Jack Kelly, former head of the Olympic Festival in Minneapolis. “Many people like to go to multiple events in the same day. What is the ease of getting between those events? What is the experience you're providing the spectators?

        “Can Cincinnati convince (the USOC) the experience is going to be a good one? If they can't, it won't get any farther than that. Some of the venues are more spread out in Cincinnati. So it's a perception Cincinnati has to overcome.”

        Mr. Kelly has assisted Houston in its Olympic bid preparation.

        Don Schumacher, who is based in Cincinnati and is the executive director of the National Association of Sports Commissions, said Cincinnati 2012 has to be able to convince the USOC that Cincinnati is big enough as “the place to be” for the Super Bowl-like festivities associated with the Olympics.

        But Mr. Schumacher believes an even bigger core issue for the USOC is how the winning U.S. city will fare in world competition to get the Olympics. The USOC is going to pick the city it believes has the best chance to beat the Beijings of the world, Mr. Schumacher said.

        Dave Syferd, who spearheaded Seattle's bid before that city dropped out of the competition last year, agrees the world-class nature of the cities is going to be critical because of the international competition.

        “The ability to have the venues and facilities close together with a minimum of traffic conflict and not having to spread the security over a wide space was starting to become much more of a critical factor (just before Seattle dropped out) than it was in past Olympics,” Mr. Syferd said.

        Low dependence on surface streets to move people during the Games is regarded by Olympics officials as a major plus, Mr. Syferd said.

        Not having light rail is going to hurt Cincinnati's bid, the experts say. Cincinnati 2012 is proposing the use of buses primarily to move people.

        Of the eight competitors, five have rail systems (Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington-Baltimore); a sixth (Tampa Bay) just passed a tax levy approving one.

        “You can do light rail without the Olympics, but you can't do the Olympics without light rail,” David Gosling, Ohio's eminent scholar in urban design at the University of Cincinnati, told the Enquirer last year.

        Nick Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012, said the bid doubles Atlanta's 1996 transportation budget and “We believe we can move the people during those 17 days” with buses for spectators and some media, and vans and cars for athletes, officials and other media.

        Cincinnati has tightened up its proposal on venues compared to 18 months ago. Back then there was talk about basketball in Indianapolis, but now the plan is to have the early rounds in Rupp Arena in Lexington, and the later rounds under a proposed new dome of Nippert Stadium, the 35,000-seat football stadium at the University of Cincinnati.

        Gymnastics, another tremendously popular sport, would be under the same dome, similar to the way it was done in Atlanta in 1996. Seventy percent of all the Olympic events, and all of the network TV-type sports, would be in the Greater Cincinnati-Dayton core, Mr. Vehr said.

        “The big-ticket events — gymnastics and swimming and basketball and track and field — would all occur within the core,” Mr. Vehr said. “We've carefully designed the program that way. There is no question when people come to the Cincinnati Olympic Games, they're going to be seeing an awful lot of stuff in Cincinnati.”

        Mr. Vehr said having the equestrian events at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington and the boxing at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Muhammad Ali's hometown, are strengths of Cincinnati's bid.

        Thematically, it's hard to imagine any city doing a better job of matching sports with venue than Cincinnati has done. Mr. Vehr and company have turned what was initially viewed as a negative — an Olympics spread out over four cities in two states — into a positive.

        Not only would the equestrian events be in the Bluegrass region and boxing in the city of the Muhammad Ali Center, but baseball would be in the Great American Ball Park and basketball and gymnastics would be in a domed-over Nippert Stadium on the campus of the University of Cincinnati (home of Oscar Robertson and hometown of 1996 gold medalist Amanda Borden).

        Another potential problem — one that could knock Cincinnati out of the water before it's barely in it — is Issue 3, the city charter amendment that prohibits the city from adopting any laws protecting gays and lesbians.

        Olympic officials are sensitive about the potential political land mines waiting in cities that want to host the games, and Issue 3 is clearly one of those — a possible flash point that could set off a boycott by gay and lesbian groups.

        “The USOC and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) try to avoid any controversy,” Mr. Syferd said. “If there's any controversy, that's going to hurt (a bid). They (Olympic officials) want the Games to be as peaceful and non-issue-oriented as possible.”

        There are other problems, too.

        Professor John MacAloon, an Olympic scholar at the University of Chicago, reiterated last Thursday what other Olympic experts have been saying for a year now: No Olympics is coming back to U.S. soil without government guarantees against shortfalls.

        “The Games that have been here in 1996 and (are coming to Salt Lake City in) 2002 are troubled in many ways,” Mr. MacAloon said. “It is not clear that anytime in the foreseeable future that there will be an Olympics in the U.S. without federal government guarantees. The (IOC) is loathe to ever again (allow) the Games to be as thoroughly privately financed as the '96 Games had to be.”

        Also at issue is the lack of a big convention center in which both the electronic and print media could work in a permanent structure. Under the current plan, the electronic media would work in temporary quarters at Turfway Race Course; the print media would work at Albert B. Sabin Covention Center downtown.

        There are other concerns about Cincinnati's bid, but these other concerns affect all eight of the competing cities in one way or another:

        • Having enough space to house the thousands of Olympic athletes. Cincinnati proposes to house many of them in Bond Hill, largely in a location now occupied by Maketewah Country Club. Satellite Olympic villages would be set up in other cities where athletes would compete.

        • Having a 70,000- to 80,000-seat track and field facility that can be significant downsized (to, say, 10,000 sets) once the Olympics is over. Cincinnati 2012 proposes this for the western riverfront.

        • Having enough hotel rooms. The Greater Cincinnati-Dayton core has 30,000 rooms; riverboats lined up Tall Stacks-style along the Cincinnati riverfront in a TV-enhancing display would handle the rest, the city's bid says.

        The track-and-field facility may be the most interesting issue of all.

        Cincinnati is not at a disadvantage because it doesn't have a 70,000- to 80,000-seat facility for Olympic track and field. None of the seven other candidate cities has an easy solution to this problem, either.

        Mr. Schumacher said building a track-and-field stadium for the Olympics that can later be downsized to 10,000 to 15,000 seats for use as a community soccer and track facility is not a stretch of the imagination. The technology already exists to build a facility that way provided the proper site is available.

        The USOC is going to want to know the “believability” of each city's plan for a track-and-field stadium, Mr. Vehr said.

        It's “a big question, a complex issue,” Mr. Vehr said, especially given the “four years of hell we've just lived through in delivering the central riverfront.”

        “Will it be easy? Of course not. Is it a good idea? Yeah, we think so. We think it's a very good idea.”

        Where would the money come from?

        “We've got that figured into our budget — $35 million for the permanent facility, $100 million for the temporary facility,” all of it funded by TV broadcast rights, sponsorships, ticket sales and merchandising, Mr. Vehr said. “Those are good, solid numbers provided to us by people who know what it takes to do this.

        “Land acquisition? If it's a permanent legacy for this community — something that's going to be left here forever — this community should be involved in figuring out how to make that happen. We don't know what that would cost. Right now, there are junkyards and coal yards and some bombed-out businesses and some very viable businesses. It's a very complex concept.”

        The USOC will name its bid city by fall 2002. The U.S. bid city then competes with cities throughout the world to be named the 2012 Olympic Host City. This winner will be chosen by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2005.


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