Provo and Utah County officials beamed at the future site of an Olympic ice arena Wednesday morning because it was ground, not promises, being broken.
"This is a first step in being part of the 2002 Olympics and will provide a legacy for generations to come," said Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert.Olympics organizers pledged ice rinks to Ogden and Provo several years before Salt Lake City landed the 2002 Winter Games. Ogden received $3 million from the Utah Sports Authority and built the Ice Sheet. But Provo, except for a paltry $100,000 for a feasibility study, got nothing. None of the $59 million from voter-approved sales-tax increase was earmarked for Utah Valley despite its solid support of the ballot measure.
Local officials were told that Olympic venues couldn't be strung out too far along the Wasatch Front. And Provo was too far.
"Initially, when I took office, there was nothing for Utah County," said Mayor George Stewart. "I kind of made a big stink about it."
City and county leaders say the then Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee gave them verbal assurances that Utah Valley would receive some kind of venue if it could get residents to go for the tax increase.
When former Salt Lake Organizing Committee president Tom Welch later held that no promises were made, the mayor sent him a strongly worded letter. The Utah County Commission also jumped in to urge the SLOC to make good on what they understood to be a commitment to Utah's second most populous county. Local Utah Sports Authority members Carol Thorne and Jim Young also lobbied hard for Utah Valley.
"There was a lot of petitioning and negotiating going on," said Commissioner David Gardner. "It's just been an ongoing lobbying effort."
The payoff - at least the first sign of it - came Wednesday on the southwest corner of Seven Peaks Water Park, 1330 E. 300 North.
The Provo City/Utah County Ice Sheet Authority and Seven Peaks - after an arduous negotiation of their own - toasted the coming of the Ice Arenas at Seven Peaks with fireworks and a ceremonial groundbreaking. After weeks of delays, development agreements were finally signed Tuesday.
"We who began this crusade have gone through many encouraging as well as discouraging times as we've worked through the process of trying to bring an Olympic venue to our community," Thorne said. "Because of the many who did not give up, our children will now be able to make their dreams a reality."
The 80,400-square-foot building will contain two side-by-side ice rinks, one of which will have seating for 2,100 spectators. The other will seat about 300. The facility is scheduled to be completed in 10 months. It will be used for practice during the Olympics.
The $8.5 million venture turned into a cooperative effort between the four public and private entities. Provo and Utah County put in $2 million each, the SLOC contributed $3 million and Seven Peaks kicked in another $1.5 million. The ice sheet authority will own the building and contract with Seven Peaks to manage it.
The project's original budget was set at $7 million. But Seven Peaks owner Max Rabner persuaded the authority to design the arena with two ice sheets, making it the only such venue in the state. Seven Peaks agreed to pick up the additional cost, which Rabner said has reached at least $1.5 million.
Stewart said being part of the Olympics will give Utah Valley a different level of pride it would have otherwise. The aura of the Olympics exceeds that of other major sporting events, he said.
"I look back and say, `Should we have been a pain? Should we have rocked the boat?' I say, `Yeah,' " the mayor said. "It came out the way it should have come out."