Friday, July 13, 2001

2012 Olympics

We're now helping fund dream

        Nick Vehr's Olympic folly used to be good for a laugh.

        He wants to bring the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to Cincinnati.

        Sounds wacky. But, so what. As the president of Cincinnati 2012 Inc., he wasn't working with any public money. His funds came from individuals and big business.

        Not anymore.

        Now, this pipe dream is costing me money. As well as every other taxpayer in Ohio and Kentucky.

        This week, Cincinnati 2012 Inc. — the nonprofit entity dedicated to turning the Queen City and its neighbors into a Midwestern Olympic Village — received its first public money: $500,000 from the state of Ohio, $200,000 from Kentucky.

        Instead of being amused, I'm curious. As a taxpayer, I'm now a part owner of this Cincinnati Olympics deal. I want to know where my money's going.        

Smooth operator

        Nick Vehr knows. So, I called him at Cincinnati 2012 headquarters. Since I'm new to this Olympics business, I had to get his number from information. The operator asked: “What kind of business is Cincinnati 2012?”

        I told her.

        She giggled.

        “You think they're actually going to get the Olympics in Cincinnati?” she asked.

        “When donkeys fly” was my response.

        Giggling again, she gave me the number.

        Nick Vehr knows lots of people giggle behind his back, not believing in his cause the way he does with a rabid passion. That's OK. He plans to have the last laugh.

        He aims to win over the doubters as well as members of the United States Olympic Committee when they visit Cincinnati July 23-26.

        He also intends for Cincinnati to top seven other cities — Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas and Tampa — to become the U.S. candidate for the 2012 summer games.

        “One morning,” he told me, “those cities will wake up and wonder how they were beaten by Cincinnati.”

        Swell. How will the taxpayers' $700,000 help?

        The public's money, he said, will go toward “promoting this part of America.”

        Details, please.

        “We have to rent motor coaches for the U.S. Olympic Committee members.” They need to see the close proximity and offerings of area college campuses.

        The money will not go to wine and dine committee members. Burned by previous scandals, they pay their own way.

        Cincinnati 2012 can give each committee member one gift. But it cannot exceed $10. Nick Vehr's still shopping for the perfect present.

        The rest of the public money, he said, goes to “marketing” — mailing info packets around the country — and “running an office” — buying paper clips, updating the Web site.        

Give a reason

        Those appear to be legitimate expenses.

        But, before more public funds go to this venture, the people need ironclad assurances that a tangible benefit will come from vying for these games.

        Money's tight. Government budgets are pinched. And there are crying needs throughout the region. Strained race relations. Crumbling schools, roads and bridges. They make competing for the Olympics seem grandiose.

        Cincinnati 2012 does not have a mandate from the people. We didn't vote to fund the cause. So, be very careful with our money.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.


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