Sunday, July 22, 2001

City gets Olympic inspection

A U.S. committee visits next week to evaluate the proposal to host the 2012 Summer Games

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Cincinnati's quest for the 2012 Summer Olympics takes a critical and historic step this week when the city hosts a contingent from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).

        It's a high-stakes, four-day visit that will either eliminate or keep alive the Queen City's chances of playing host to the world 11 years from now.

Plans for riverfront makeover include Olympic Stadium at left.

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        The importance of the USOC visit cannot be overstated, said John A. Lucas, an Olympic historian and professor emeritus at Penn State University.

        “This is their singular visit. If they get the wrong answers or see things they don't like, they'll just write you off,” Mr. Lucas said. “It's a very, very important step in the process.”

        The USOC's nine-member site team will tour proposed venues in Ohio and Kentucky, check transportation systems, pick apart the $2.6 billion Olympic budget and listen to local officials tout the region's spirit and ability to pull off the world's biggest fortnight of sport.

        And while not on the official itinerary, the riots of April and the city's struggle with racial justice are sure to be discussed.

        The USOC officials will arrive familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of the city's 806-page, 17-pound Olympic bid — delivered by Cincinnati 2012 Inc. in December after four years and $4 million.

  • Monday: USOC site team arrives, attends a dinner.
  • Tuesday: USOC hears Cincinnati 2012 presentation on infrastructure, sporting event experience, housing and the Olympic Village. Tour of venues in Cincinnati and Dayton.
  • Wednesday: Tours in Lexington and Columbus. Cincinnati 2012 presentation on transportation, government support and budget/government financial guarantee.
  • Thursday: USOC private breakfast, to be followed by a press conference at 11 a.m.
        That bid envisions a new Olympic stadium on Cincinnati's western riverfront as the core for a Summer Games that will also include boxing in Louisville, equestrian events in Lexington, softball in Dayton, wrestling in Columbus and sailing on Lake Erie.

        The bid acknowledges public spending for land and other improvements. But it presumes the bulk of the revenue will come from sponsorships, TV rights, tickets and merchandising. Cincinnati 2012 expects that the Games will have $145 million left over.

Critical questions
        The USOC already has checked out Dallas, Houston and Washington. After Cincinnati, the team will visit New York City, Los Angeles, Tampa and San Francisco. One of the eight cities will be picked in October 2002 to compete against international cities for the 2012 Games.

        The team expects presentations on eight key topics, including the demand for a financial guarantee that would cover any deficit.

        Cincinnati 2012 officials have a new answer for that one, after state senators in Ohio and Kentucky agreed to introduce legislation on Monday that would set aside sales tax revenue generated by spending on the Games to provide that guarantee.

        Other topics the USOC is expecting to hear about include the Olympic Village plan, infrastructure, government support and strategies on how Cincinnati would compete against a field of international cities for the Games.

Gymnastics would be held in a domed Nippert Stadium at UC.
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        Washington-Baltimore was the first site visited by the USOC. Dan Knise, president of the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition, said the USOC officials let them make presentations with little interruption. But they get their questions in, he said.

        Some of those questions in Washington focused on the frequency and size of Metro trains, along with the location of transportation depots.

        “Our itinerary was very formal, there were clear times for presentations and question-and-answer,” Mr. Knise said. “What impressed us, they had clearly read the proposals and thought through the critical issues for our city. And they'll have done that for Cincinnati.”

        Richard Green, president of Dallas 2012 and former mayor of Arlington, Texas, said the entire visit there felt like a test.

        “The assignment, to do all the things you need to do in two or three days, is so daunting,” Mr. Green said. “The ability to stay on schedule and execute the plan laid out for them is part of how they measure your ability to conduct a big event.”

"We're going to nail it'

        Nick Vehr, Cincinnati 2012 president and the man most associated with Cincinnati's bid, said the ability to adjust and remain flexible is equally important.

        “It's game time from the minute they hit town until the minute they leave,” said Mr. Vehr, a former Notre Dame football player. “This is what we've worked five years for, and we're going to nail it.”

        The team's first day in Cincinnati on Monday will be a carefully planned introduction. The USOC team will be driven by local officials to their suites in the Marriott River Center in Covington.

        Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken will tell the team that they are about to see one of the prettiest inland cities in the country. The mayor said the riots won't be part of his presentation, but he won't shy away from them, either.

        “I believe we have the same problems other major cities have,” Mr. Luken said. “We're working on constructive solutions. I'll explain that.”

        Mr. Luken also said he will be ready to explain why city council has yet to give Cincinnati 2012 any financial support. He will point out that council has three times thrown its moral support behind the effort.

        “My response will be that our budget is tight and demand for city services is high,” Mr. Luken said. “So to the extent that the bid can be completed without city tax dollars, that's the way to go.”

        Hamilton County commissioners also have refused to ante up, but Ohio and Kentucky recently committed $700,000 in tourism funds.

A riverfront view

        The real work starts on Tuesday.

        After a private breakfast, the team will be driven by bus to Cinergy's corporate office downtown where members of the Port Authority will make a presentation on the $1 billion riverfront development and the planned neighborhood known as The Banks.

        The group will tour the riverfront, making stops at Sawyer Point, Yeatman's Cove and the western riverfront, where two temporary facilities and the main Olympic Stadium would be constructed.

Triathlon on the Ohio.
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        Further development along Cincinnati's riverfront is a concern to some, such as the Rev. James Jones, first vice president of the Baptist Ministers Conference and chairman of the Coalition For Justice and Racial Equality. The coalition has urged a boycott of travel and tourism to Cincinnati in protest of what it says are unmet promises of racial equality.

        The Rev. Mr. Jones said the Olympics would allow the rich to thrive while the poor continue to be ignored.

        “This isn't a great idea with the cry that has been made for investment and economic development that has been diverted and neglected in the (poor) neighborhoods,” he said.

        Rev. Damon Lynch III doesn't agree. The Rev. Mr. Lynch is on Cincinnati 2012's committee and is co-chair of the mayor's racial equality panel. He believes the plan to build housing in Bond Hill for an Olympic Village addresses that concern.

        But the Rev. Mr. Lynch — who supports the boycott — says the city has work to do before being a gracious host.

        “The Olympic ideal is exactly what Cincinnati wants to become — inclusive for its residents and inviting for the world,” he said. “The (riots) of April clearly say we're not there yet.”

Cruising the city

        A bus trip through downtown will expose the team to hotels and the convention center before the motor coach heads north on Interstate 71 through the campuses of Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati, then on to Bond Hill.

        The bus will stop at Integrity Hall, where Councilwoman Alicia Reece will tell the visitors how an Olympic Village in her neighborhood would complement existing plans.

        A quick cruise through Princeton High School, the site of proposed archery and cycling facilities, will precede the group heading north to Dayton. They will tour Wright State University and stop by Moraine, Ohio, to meet officials who have agreed to build a softball complex.

        Joe Hale, chairman of Cincinnati 2012, said he wants to make the point that most of the facilities already exist.

        “Our documents contain more photos than drawings,” Mr. Hale said. “That will help keep our budget lower.”

        It's another full day of touring on Wednesday, when the group splits in two. Half will take a Comair flight to Columbus to tour venues there, then drive back with a stop at the ATP Tennis Center in Mason.

        The other half of the team will bus to Lexington and meet with state and local officials over breakfast at the Kentucky Horse Park. From there it's on to Rupp Arena on the University of Kentucky campus (early basketball rounds) before heading home, with a brief stop at Turfway Park, the proposed international broadcast center.

        Another round of key topic presentations will follow lunch, with the week's only social gathering that night, at a private residence where Ohio Gov. Bob Taft is expected to be in attendance.

        The final day will be short, with a private USOC breakfast, followed by a press conference.

        Mr. Vehr said the region's spirit and hospitality will help distinguish Cincinnati from the pack of other cities. That point will be driven home by a multitude of speakers, he said.

        “If awarding the 2008 Games to Beijing opened China, I think having the Olympics here can open up the heart of America to the rest of the world,” Mr. Vehr said. “Folks around the world are going to love us when they get to know us.”

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