Provo might finally be able to consider itself more than a pseudo Olympic city.
The Salt Lake Organizing Committee will pay for expansion of the ice arenas under construction at Seven Peaks to host hockey games for the 2002 Winter Games. The decision scuttles plans for the McKay Center at Utah Valley State College to be modified for an Olympic venue.SLOC will spend $2.25 million, including a $500,000 in-kind donation from Olympics sponsor Home Depot, to turn the Seven Peaks ice sheets into an 8,000-seat arena.
The Provo City/Utah County Ice Sheet Authority approved a resolution Wednesday morning to submit a proposal for the design changes to SLOC. The organizing committee is expected to consider and likely sign off on the plan in November.
It appears Provo will no longer be merely a place where Olympic athletes practice. It will be a place where they go for the gold.
West Valley's E Center and the Seven Peaks arena would be the main hockey venues for the Winter Games. There would be approximately 25 matches in Provo during the 16-day event.
Seven Peaks might be the exclusive site for women's hockey or it could host men's and women's preliminary games.
"This could be the main women's hockey venue, including a medal game, at least a bronze medal game," said Mayor George Stewart.
The Provo skating venue was originally designed for dual ice rinks, one having seating for 2,100 spectators, the other for 300. The rinks were slated as practice sites during the Winter Games. The expanded building would maintain the two ice sheets.
Officials made it clear Wednesday that Provo did not steal the venue from UVSC in neighboring Orem. SLOC had been negotiating with the college for use of the McKay Center since June. Cost for renting the center and installing temporary ice was going to be $600,000.
Seven Peaks owner Max Rabner said SLOC called him the day after ground was broken on the $8.5 million ice arenas in Provo. He said they expressed to him a desire for more seats and better sight lines than the McKay Center could provide. Spectators in many sections of the center would have obstructed views of the ice. It also wasn't as conducive to hockey players as Olympic organizers had hoped.
"They're looking for the best facility that meets the athletes' needs," Rabner said.
The expanded Seven Peaks venue will now have 12 locker rooms instead of four. Its two ice sheets also make it more attractive for the Winter Games. One of the sheets will be surrounded by 8,000 seats, 2,300 of which will be permanent. The remainder would be brought in for the Olympics.
The entire project now becomes a $10.75 million venture between the four public and private entities. Provo and Utah County put in $2 million each, the SLOC contribution is now $5.25 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.
Seven Peaks does not intend to enlarge its parking lot for Olympic events. Spectators would be shuttled to the venue.
Utah County Commissioner Gary Herbert, who serves on the ice sheet authority, said he could go along with the proposal if it doesn't cost taxpayers money, there's no financial risk to the authority and the expanded arena does not compete with the McKay Center for events such as concerts.
"It's an incredible bargain for the community and for the SLOC," Stewart said.
Herbert is satisfied on the first two points, but there's still some question about the roles of the two venues. Utah County built the $22 million McKay Center using restaurant tax revenue, and it helps oversee its operation.
Stewart suggested the Seven Peaks arena be used for ice events only. Carol Thorne, a Utah Sports Authority and ice sheet authority member, said the growing demand for ice time in Utah Valley among various organization will keep the arena busy.
Herbert said he doesn't care where the Winter Games venue is as long as Utah County has one. "We deserve it. We're entitled to it," he said.
Utah Valley leaders long argued that Olympic organizers were overlooking the state's second most populous county. Olympics officials had said Provo and Orem were too far from Salt Lake City, and stringing out venues along the Wasatch Front would hurt Utah's chance for landing the games.