Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke had doubts about Utah hosting the 2002 Olympics.
The Olympic spirit can be elusive for some, and I was right there with the skeptics as Salt Lake City prepared to host the 2002 Games.
With all the rosy promises and predictions made by the candidature cheerleaders, there were so many reasons to wonder if we could pull it off and, even if we did, would it be worth it.
They would be expensive and Utah might not even break even. We’d throw millions and millions of dollars into building a bobsleigh track and a luge track, a handful of jumps, and then who knows if they’d be needed again? Ecological and environmental impacts are inevitably present. And yes, the games wanted to bring global attention to our corner of the world, but do we really want that at all?
It was a lot of money — $1.35 billion at the end of the day. And the games had one major potential downside, with what appears to be a couple of weeks of potential upside – if they ever actually materialize.
In hindsight, my skepticism was misplaced. It was worth it. Not only were the games even, they turned in a profit of $101 million. Utah has developed into one of the leading winter sports resorts in the world. And countless young people – from gold medalist Nathan Chen to those we’ll never know – have been given inspiration and opportunities to compete in winter sports.
Now, in the midst of the bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics, the case for the Games is even more compelling.
Of course, there are the promised economic benefits. A study released Wednesday by the University of Utah’s Kem Gardner Policy Institute estimates that the 2030 Olympic and Paralympic Games would provide a $3.9 billion boost to the economy and create thousands of jobs. And it requires fewer upfront commitments as most venues are built and most are operational.
“[While that’s a] On the negative side of the economic impact side, it’s a very big boost to our bid because all the infrastructure is in place,” Fraser Bullock, who heads the bid committee, said on a call with reporters last week.
The Gardner study estimates that about $23 million would be needed to make some venues Olympic-ready. Most of that, $15 million, would be used for improvements to the Olympic Park’s slide, Nordic lifts and parking lots. Compare that to the $480 million (in inflation-adjusted dollars) spent building these venues in 2002.
And we can use the 2030 Games to drive greater investment in greener infrastructure. Remember how Utah received funding to build its first light rail line, which was sped up so it would be ready to carry Olympic visitors? Consider how preparing for the 2030 Games could lead to even more aggressive investments in much-needed capital projects.
Since last year, the International Olympic Committee has mandated that by 2030 all Olympic Games must be carbon neutral or carbon negative (when carbon offsets are factored into the equation). As such, preparations for hosting the Games in 2030 could serve as a key catalyst to significantly expand cleaner public transport, accelerate the rollout of EV charging stations, introduce aggressive efficiency standards for new builds, and implement meaningful water conservation measures.
Those are all things we should be doing anyway, but given the urgency of a 2030 deadline – not to mention a lot of money – the lasting legacy of the Olympics could be that of a greener, more sustainable city years earlier than otherwise possible the case.
And of course there’s the feel-good stuff: a community coming together with a shared sense of pride in being at the center of the global stage.
That’s not to say there won’t be challenges – increased growth pressures, rising housing costs, drought and potential lack of snow.
But the fact remains that Salt Lake and the Wasatch Front are far better equipped to host the Games today than they were two decades ago, and arguably better positioned to make the Olympics a success than any other city on the planet planets.
It makes sense, as a community, to reach for that gold and reap the significant benefits of hosting the world – and then prepare to do it all again in 2058.
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https://www.sltrib.com/opinion/2022/05/23/why-skeptic-thinks-salt/ Why a Skeptic Thinks Salt Lake City Should Host the Olympics Again Robert Gehrke explains his change of heart.