If Utah County is excluded as a proposed site for at least one major event for the 1998 Winter Olympics, the state can count on local leaders to fight a referendum this fall that would reallocate tax revenues Utah needs to prepare for the Games.
That was the message the newly organized Utah County Winter Olympics Committee delivered Tuesday to Neil Richardson, chairman of the state's Olympics site committee.Jim Young, Utah County Travel Council director, told Richardson that local leaders are concerned Utah County has been overlooked so far as a possible site for events. Following the meeting, Young said it took "a little arm twisting" to get the state committee's attention and an audience with Richardson.
"We felt we should be more involved, but we weren't," he said.
The voicing of local concerns about being left out of the Games may already have paid off. Young said Tom Welch, Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee chairman, told him Utah County likely can expect to host at least one major event.
Of course, the state's excitement about being named the U.S. bid city for the 1998 Games could be for naught if Utah is unsuccessful before the International Olympics Committee.
But the first hurdle facing Olympic enthusiasts is this fall's referendum. If the referendum passes, the state would not raise taxes, but rather reallocate sufficient sales tax revenue to retire $40 million in bonds that would be sold to fund construction of needed facilities. Money raised from the Olympics, in turn, would later be funneled into state coffers to cover those costs.
"In Utah, it takes the whole state to get behind an effort like this and bring it about," Richardson told the 17-member committee, which includes several local mayors, business leaders and representatives from Brigham Young University and Utah Valley Community College.
Committee members told Richardson their support of the referendum is contingent upon Utah County serving as a host for at least one event. Events for which the county can bid are speed skating, ice hockey, figure skating and the closing ceremonies.
"We could really get behind the vote if we knew for sure" whether the county would be the site of an event, County Commission Chairman Brent Morris said. He added, "I think you underestimate the conservatism of Utah County."
Pressed for a date on when state's Olympic executive committee would decide where the four events would be held, Richardson replied: "I don't know."
Though BYU's Cougar Stadium would be an obvious site for the closing ceremonies, some committee members expressed interest in hosting speed skating and in seeing a $25 million, 210,000-square-foot oval facility needed for the event built in Utah County. Possible sites include Seven Peaks resort or UVCC's Orem campus.
The facility could later be used as a countywide, multipurpose convention center, said Victor Borchards, Seven Peaks owner. Remodeling of the BYU Marriott Center to accommodate figure skating or hockey was ruled out because the center would not be available on Sundays.
Richardson said the state's Olympic executive committee is being reorganized to give Utah County five representatives.