Salt Lake already ‘ticking all the boxes’ for another successful Olympic bid

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Baily Luck works out during freestyle skate class at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017. Salt Lake’s existing venues are seen as boosting the chances of Utah landing a second Winter Games.

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake is already "ticking all the boxes" for another successful Winter Games bid, according to the head of a leading international Olympic publication.

"They’re doing all the right things," said Ed Hula, founder and editor of the Atlanta-based "Around the Rings," especially involving state and local government leaders in the newly formed Olympic Exploratory Committee.

On Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert; Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy; House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper; and Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski joined business leaders and Olympic athletes to kick off the committee.

"It sounds like they’re ticking all the boxes by lining up the government support that would be needed," Hula said, praising what he called the "self-initiative that Salt Lake is showing."

That, combined with Salt Lake’s track record as the host of the 2002 Winter Games, will likely appeal to the U.S. Olympic Committee, he said. The USOC has until March 31, 2018, to decide whether to advance an American city for 2026 or 2030.

"The USOC wants to hear from cities right now over the next few months to figure out what to do," Hula said. At the same time, the International Olympic Committee is expected to start talking with interested cities from around the world.

A new bid process approved in July by the IOC for the 2026 Winter Games now allows for a full year of discussions with both national Olympic committees like the USOC and potential bid cities.

When the yearlong "invitation phase" intended to reduce the cost and complexity of competing for an Olympics ends in October 2018, the IOC will announce which cities qualify to submit formal bids.

The IOC is set to name the 2026 host city in September 2019, but could end up awarding the 2030 Winter Games at the same time. Earlier this year, the IOC broke precedent by giving Paris the 2024 Summer Games and Los Angeles the 2028 Games.

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"It’s going to allow the IOC and the city to look closely at what resources are available in the city, what kind of expertise is needed to put the bid together that results in a bid that fits with what the IOC wants," Hula said.

The IOC is looking to make the Winter Games easier to host to encourage more interest after receiving few bids in recent years. The next two Winter Games are being held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 and Beijing, China, in 2022.

That focus helps Salt Lake, Hula said, and may make competition from other U.S. cities moot.

"Very much so, because the reliance on existing infrastructure, existing venues are all really important to keeping the costs and complexity down," he said, so the new IOC process could result in just one or two cities internationally being invited to bid.

Both Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area have expressed interest in bidding for the Winter Games.

Jon Killoran, CEO of the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition, said recently it’s "great for the United States any time any region is interested" in bidding. He said the coalition came together after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake.

"We’ve always felt strongly about what the Reno Tahoe region, the states of Nevada and California have to offer to an Olympic movement and to a future Winter Games bid," he said.

Killoran said he recognizes Salt Lake already has Olympic venues in place from 2002.

"That’s something that you look at. Obviously, with our bid, there are things we would have to address in terms of those facilities," he said. "But we knew that 14 years ago when we got involved."

Venues, Killoran said, "are one part of an Olympic bid process. But there are many parts to an Olympic bid process and we again feel very confident in terms of what we have to offer," including possible hockey venues in Las Vegas.

Denver officials looking at a bid declined to comment on the formation of a Salt Lake exploratory committee.

Just after the exploratory committee was announced, Utah lawmakers were told that nearly $40 million needs to be spent to ready the state’s 2002 venues for another bid.

The Senate president and House speaker have said they support coming up with the money, which will pay for projects including replacing the roof on the speedskating oval in Kearns and reinforcing the wall around the bobsled track near Park City.

What may not happen is the repayment of the investment from Olympic profits, even though taxpayers got back the $59 million originally spent to build the facilities and another $76 million endowment to operate them.

Fraser Bullock, the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games and a co-chairman of the exploratory committee, said the budget has to be tighter this time around.

That’s because with the 2028 Summer Games in L.A., another U.S. Olympics either right before or right after won’t be able to count on as much support from sponsors, a major source of revenue.

Hula said if the expenditure for the venues becomes an issue, it could dampen enthusiasm for another Salt Lake bid.

"That is the sort of thing that you would have to look at in Salt Lake City, look out for, that, ‘We have been here before. We have done this once. Why do we need to pay for it again,’" Hula said. "That certainly has to be addressed."

And while he said he doesn’t expect opposition to a bid to surface in Salt Lake, there’s work to be done to keep Utahns from becoming blasé about another Winter Games.

"Somebody’s got to get them fired up for wanting to do this," Hula said. "A bunch of politicians running around saying, "We should do this. Let’s do this," is not quite enough."

One of the athletes on the exploratory committee, Chris Waddell, a sit-skier and wheelchair track athlete who competed in seven Paralympics for athletes with disabilities held after the Olympics, including in Salt Lake in 2002, is already excited.

"It’s really easy to feel a tremendous amount of pride about the way that we put on the Games before but could put them on again, too," Waddell, a resident of Park City since 1999, said. "It’s a way to bring the world to your little village."

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