Olympics leave lasting economic impact

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 7 2012 7:39 p.m. MST

Alpine skier Janica Kostelic of Croatia displays a gold medal Feb 22, 2002, at the Olympic Medals Plaza in downtown Salt Lake City. Like the Salt Lake Olympic Games, the metal for London's Olympic medals will come from the Kennecott Utah Copper mine.

Chuck Wing, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A decade ago, Utah became the sports capital of the world during its 16-day run as host of the XIX Olympic Winter Games. The event raised the Beehive State's profile. But it also brought economic impacts that are still being felt throughout the Wasatch front.

Wednesday the Olympic torch will be lit once again, a bright reminder of the competition and pageantry that greeted the nations of the world. But it is also a fitting reminder of what occurred here in Salt Lake City and nearby venues. By the conclusion of the closing ceremonies, the 2002 Games was among the most lucrative Winter Olympics ever staged.

Official state estimates of the economic impact showed the Salt Lake Olympics yielded $100 million in profits, $4.8 billion in sales, 35,000 job years of employment and $1.5 billion in earnings for Utah workers during 2002.

Since then, the state's ski and lodging industries have enjoyed record-setting years, with a 42 percent increase in skier visits. Direct expenditures from skiers and snowboarders have increased 67 percent from $704 million in 2002-03 to $1.2 billion in 2010-11.

In addition, numerous national governing bodies for many Olympic sports have relocated to Utah as a result of the Games, including speedskating, bobsled and skeleton, as well as the nordic training facilities.

"We have become the winter sports capital of the United States," said Fraser Bullock, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. He joined the Salt Lake Organizing Committee in May of 1999, acting as its chief operating officer and the manager of the $1.31 billion budget of the Olympics and Paralympics until his appointment as chief executive in April 2002.

He noted that a number of globally recognized winter sports companies like Finnish sports equipment maker Amer Sports and French ski manufacturer Rossignol have moved their U.S. headquarters to Utah in the decade since the Games.

"The world saw and these companies saw the wonderful environment we have here," Bullock said. "Utah was put in the spotlight for a period of time that drew companies here."

The Games were at least partly responsible for the construction of several area venues that are still in use and have been a source of significant revenue for their respective communities, including the Olympic Village at the University of Utah, the Utah Olympic Park in Summit County and the Olympic Oval in Kearns.

"We helped expand (Rice-Eccles) stadium … similarly, we helped build the (Maverik) Center and the Peaks Ice Arena," Bullock said. While some of the venues were public-private partnerships, the long-term economic benefit to the community is substantial, he said.

The profits from the Games were distributed throughout the local community, with a $72 million endowment left to maintain former Olympic facilities, $10.2 million for Olympic Legacy Plazas, $11.5 million for charitable donations and $7 million in U.S. Olympic Committee business credits.

The interest from the endowment funds the operation of the venues, Bullock said. While the endowment principal has been affected by the economic downturn — reducing the amount to less than $60 million for a time, the amount has begun to increase, sitting in the $65 million dollar range, he said.

When the torch was lit 10 years ago, Salt Lake City became the most populous area ever to host the Winter Olympics. That distinction later went to Torino, Italy, which itself was surpassed by Vancouver in 2010.

The global media exposure of the Games gave Utah an estimated $210 million value in media exposure from locally broadcast events that have translated into increased tourism, according to Leigh Von der Esch, managing director of the Utah Office of Tourism. The state has experienced nine of Utah's top 10 all-time skier years in the decade since the 2002 Olympics.

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