Thursday, December 14, 2000

City submits Olympic bid

Two years, 806 pages and a single-minded dream for 2012

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Plans for transformed riverfront would include Olympic Stadium, left.
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        Cincinnati's bid for the world will hit the road today.

        Contained on 806 pages in three glossy volumes are the Olympic dreams — along with the sweat — of more than 200 people who spent four years and $4 million preparing Cincinnati's request for the 2012 summer Olympiad.

        Nick Vehr, whose name is most associated with the effort, will wheel 10 copies of the document to United Parcel Service this afternoon, so the volumes arrive at the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs well in advance of the Friday deadline.

        The USOC will pick apart Cincinnati's bid and seven others over the next two years before selecting a single American city to compete internationally for the Games.

        There will be much to review in the Cincinnati bid, including plans for:

  • Map of proposed venues
  • Status of venues
  • A look at Cincinnati's competition
  • Four annual festivals would precede Games
        • A domed Nippert Stadium on the University of Cincinnati campus that would host gymnastics and the medal rounds of basketball.

        • Two temporary facilities — an archery complex and velodrome for cycling — at Princeton High School in Sharonville.

        • An Olympic stadium to be built on the riverfront, west of Paul Brown Stadium and the Brent Spence Bridge.

        • Athletic facilities in Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Lexington and Louisville hosting events.

        • Various athletic events being played at several local arenas — including Xavier's Cintas Center, the Cincinnati Gardens, Paul Brown Stadium, the Reds' Great American Ball Park and UC's Shoemaker Center.

        • Beach volleyball competition at Sawyer Point.

Gymnastics would be held in a domed Nippert Stadium at UC.
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        In all, the 2012 Summer Games in Cincinnati will cost nearly $2.6 billion, including $311 million budgeted in a contingency fund, Mr. Vehr estimates. However, he expects the Olympics to generate slightly more than $2.7 billion.

        Cincinnati should expect much scrutiny. USOC officials are taking a harder look at the applicants this time around. It's the most demanding and detailed document ever required, asking for information on everything from an applicant city's culture to its sewer system.

        “The whole process is new, completely different,” said USOC spokesman Mike Moran. “There is a tremendous amount of money at stake, and there are more cities than ever before interersted in bidding on the Olympic Games. We had to become more formal.”

        Cincinnati 2012 has responded with a bold statement that the region's spirit, heritage and infrastructure will allow the Queen City to stand as the most ready and capable host in Olympic history.

Triathlon on the Ohio.
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        “This document is a way of telling the entire world who we are and how good we are,” said Joe Hale, president of the Cinergy Foundation Inc., and chairman of Cincinnati 2012 Inc. “It shows we can do it, and it shows that the Olympics would be a transforming event for the region as a whole. I think that's what the USOC is looking for.”

        The document makes the case this way:

        • The vast majority of event venues would be spread over a 100-mile radius, smaller than Sydney, Australia, and Atlanta.

        • Most events will be in facilities that have already been built and which are among the most modern in the world.

        • Cincinnati's rich Olympic history — the city produced an athlete in the first modern Olympiad of 1896, and the first African-American gold medalist in 1924 — will complement the Games. So, too, will the city's history of art, hospitality and diversity.

        • The region's airports, roads and existing passenger rail are capable of moving the crowds — even without a new light rail system. Light rail, however, would make the bid stronger.

        And, most important, Cincinnati 2012, Inc. has put together a financing plan that is “strong, credible and defensible.”

        Mr. Vehr, the bid group's president, will need to defend it.

        Although the bid doesn't address a tax increase, it would call for untold millions of public money to buy land for an Olympic stadium on the riverfront's western shore. The stadium would be a permanent facility that will shrink from 80,000 to 15,000 seats after the Games.

        Tax money might also be required for other construction projects, such as proposed aquatics centers at the University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University. Those projects would be added to university capital plans if Cincinnati becomes Olympic host.

        “Is it right to have the Olympics deliver the western riverfront?” Mr. Vehr asked. “If it is, this community will get it at a fraction of the cost because there will be Olympic money involved.”

        Mr. Hale said the bid already has benefited the region. He said that benefit will continue, even if the Games don't come to town.

        “We have presidents of seven universities co-chairing our Culture Committee,” Mr. Hale said. “We've built alliances that haven't been built before.

        “And the information in this bid obviously has applications for so many others in the business community, non-profits, education. It's a comprehensive collection of data on this region.”

        Those alliances have been necessary to explain to the USOC how the Olympic Games in the region would work in six cities and two Midwestern states during the last two days of June and first 15 days of July 2012.

No guarantee yet

               One of the most controversial aspects of bidding on the Games is not addressed by Cincinnati 2012.

        The USOC is requiring candidates to provide a government financial “guarantee” that the Games do not leave behind a mountain of debt. The deadline for providing that assurance is Dec. 31, 2001.

        Cincinnati's bid says it will have the assurance before the deadline in a way “that gains the agreement and support of the USOC, local authorities, private backers and the public.”

        Mr. Vehr has said he will approach the state legislature next year to see whether a change in state law could allow the guarantee.

        Only two bidding cities — Tampa and Houston — will give the USOC their guarantee this week.

        Ed Turanchik, president of Florida 2012, said the guarantee is a must for a successful bid. The state legislature in Florida has established an Olympic Trust Fund of more than $150 million.

        “We took that requirement very seriously,” Mr. Turanchik said. “If you don't have it, you're dead because corporate guarantees won't cut it anymore. The USOC wants to know that government has bought into this.”

        A.D. Frazier, chief financial officer for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said the 1996 Games probably had a lot to do with the new requirement.

        Mr. Frazier said Atlanta wouldn't agree to be host for the Games unless it was assured there would be no financial liability. The city didn't contribute to the effort, he said.

        “The International Olympic Committee just will not stand for it to ever be done again the way Atlanta was done,” Mr. Frazier said. “It's absolutely a reasonable requirement. If I had that guarantee, I'd be 10 years younger today.”

        Despite the open question of a financial guarantee, Mr. Vehr said Cincinnati's financial plan is sound.

        Revenues — from sponsorship, television broadcast, ticket sales and merchandising — will amount to $2.715 billion, he said. The Games will cost $2.569 billion, including a $311 million contingency. That leaves a $145 million surplus after the games, according to Mr. Vehr's figures.

        The budget figures all expenses in year 2000 dollars, as specified by the USOC. Highlights include:

        • Sports operations of $450 million, which includes $350 million to build temporary facilities or temporary improvements to permanent venues.

        • A capital budget of $187.9 million, including $126.7 million for new facilities and $40 million for an Olympic Village.

        • Transportation improvements of $177.1 million — more than double the amount spent in Atlanta.

        • The bid assumes taxpayers will fund an expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Convention Center.

        The bid also calls for a domed Nippert Stadium at the University of Cincinnati, making the stadium capable of hosting premier events of gymnastics and the medal rounds of basketball. All the $58.6 million budgeted for that project comes out of Olympic revenue.

        Mr. Vehr said the budget estimates came from consultants who were responsible for 12 venues in Atlanta and who were primary consultants for the 1998 Goodwill Games in New York City and 16 Super Bowls.

        “The budget has to pass the reasonability test,” said Beth Snyder, director of Cincinnati 2012's bid development. “This isn't pie in the sky. We have an obligation to this community to stand behind whatever we put down on paper.”

        The permanent portion of the riverfront Olympic Stadium will cost $33.5 million. Another $90 million, taken from the operating budget, will temporarily expand the stadium.

        Ms. Snyder said temporary structures are much cheaper to build, so comparing the Olympic Stadium to the $457 million football stadium on the riverfront is not fair.

        The budgeted amount for the Olympic Stadium “may seem counter-intuitive based on what we've just been through, but that's not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Mr. Vehr said.

        That rings true with Atlanta's Mr. Frazier, who said he wasn't sure the Atlanta Games would break even until after they were over. He also agrees temporary structures are the way to go.

        “There's a lot you can do with pipe and drape,” Mr. Frazier said. “You don't want to build something that will be a white elephant.

        “If you want the dadgum Olympics, and it's worth it to the community, then you've got to build temporary.”

How it would work

               Cincinnati's riverfront will be transformed into a bustling Olympic Park — featuring the Olympic Stadium, three existing arenas and a temporary beach volleyball facility at Sawyer Point — should Cincinnati win the Games.

        Princeton High School would have two temporary venues built on its campus — an archery complex and a velodrome for cycling. Other area venues used for the Games would include the Cintas Center, Cincinnati Gardens, and city streets for events such as triathlon and race walk.

        About 70 percent of the Olympic events will happen in metropolitan Cincinnati.

        In addition, the Convention Center will be turned over to news media, and a cluster of temporary buildings would spring up around the Olympic Stadium for event operations, officials, concessions, merchandise and the like.

        Louisville's Freedom Hall will host all boxing events, while Lexington will be the primary stop for equestrian events such as jumping, dressage and the 3-day event.

        Columbus and Dayton will be heavily used. Only two events, sailing and preliminary rounds of baseball, will be held in Cleveland.

        The venues make sense and the distance between the most far-flung facilities and the Olympic Park are reasonable drives — making the plan workable, Mr. Vehr said.

        Two-time gold medalist Darrell Pace, who is co-chair of the Cincinnati 2012 Sports Advisory Committee, said the city has more than just workable venues going for it — it has the Olympic spirit.

        “Cincinnati has persistence, vision, discipline, commitment and focus,” Mr. Pace said. “Those are the same characteristics that define an Olympian.”

        The first and last volumes of the bid read like an encyclopedia — describing for the USOC the form of governments in the region, economic resources, topics of debate, major corporations in the region, historical inflation rates, unemployment, air quality and financial statements for each city proposed to host an event.

        There also is a section devoted to groups opposing the bid.

        An anti-tax organization called Citizens Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) has been critical of the public money it will take to put on the games. The organization produced a report that states it will cost the public more than $2 billion.

        Mr. Vehr disputes their numbers by saying they have no basis in reality. The bid mentions COAST in this way:

        “One organization has expressed concern to bringing the Games to this community. They also expressed their support for the concept if it can be financed without significant public investment.”

        Attorney Chris Finney, who is a member of COAST, said that's true, but the group doesn't believe Mr. Vehr can pull off the Olympics without big public dollars.

        The bid also gives the USOC a detailed inventory of all the hotel rooms and prices in the region, pending transportation projects, environmental impact of Olympic construction and a plan to make sure the most modern technology available is used for the Games.

        Mr. Vehr said it all adds up to a compelling bid for the Olympics — one that he thinks will lift Cincinnati from underdog to front-runner.

        “We're the underdog right now and I wouldn't have it any other way,” Mr. Vehr said.

        “But when I'm 75 years old and lying on my death bed, I'll know that if the Games were here, they should have been,” he said. “And if they weren't here, they could have been.”

        Other U.S. cities — in addition to Cincinnati, Tampa and Houston — bidding on the games are Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Dallas.

Map of proposed venues
Where Olympic events would be held
A look at Cincinnati's competition
Four annual festivals would precede Games

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