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Recommendation on another Olympic bid delayed

Published: Thursday, May 3 2012 6:01 p.m. MDT

Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist and world record holder in speedskating, discusses the formation of an exploratory committee to consider a bid for the 2022 or 2026 Olympics at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns on Wednesday, February 8, 2012. Heiden is one of the committee members.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — A recommendation on whether Utah should bid on another Winter Olympics is being delayed so a professional can be hired to put the prospects in the best possible light.

"If you just do something on the back of an envelope, it's not very impressive," said Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, the lead co-chairman of the state's Olympic Exploratory Committee. "You really want to quantify and explain, as well as possible, the costs, the risks, the benefits."

The lieutenant governor said while there's plenty of enthusiasm in the community for bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, there are concerns that could make it difficult to justify another try.

"You have to ask yourself, 'Are our chances really good enough to raise money and get people excited,'" Bell said. "That's still a question despite the fact we'd love to have them."

After meeting with a wide range of constituency groups, the consensus appears to be that Utahns want the opportunity to re-live the success of the 2002 Winter Games, he said.

For example, some 95 percent of the former 2002 Games volunteers who responded to an email sent by the exploratory committee said they wanted the state to pursue another bid.

"It's a no-brainer in that sense," Bell said.

But coming up with enough contributions to cover bid costs that could add up to as much as $30 million could be tough, he said, since the effort is expected to be privately funded.

"That's the hurdle," the lieutenant governor said. "How do you go look a guy in the eye and say, 'Give me a million bucks,' when we might get in line, we might not get in line."

The exploratory committee met behind closed doors Thursday to hammer out a proposed budget for both the bid and the Games. They are scheduled to continue their work on May 17.

Bell said the committee's report to Gov. Gary Herbert is key because it will be seen by not just Utahns, but also the U.S. and International Olympic committees, which will ultimately decide if the state gets another Games.

The USOC has yet to decide if the country will submit a bid for the 2022 Games, or set any deadlines. The IOC won't select the host city for the 2022 Games until July 2015.

Bell said he's been assured the exploratory committee has time to bring in an expert to put together the report, which may not be finished until July or even later.  When the governor announced the formation of the exploratory committee in February, he'd expected to make a decision on another bid sometime this month.

The exploratory committee, which has some $30,000 available from a recent fundraiser, may need more donations to pay for the report preparation. A final decision should be made at the next meeting.

Before the exploratory committee went into closed session Wednesday, they talked about the reactions of government officials, the environmental community, ski resorts and others to the possibility of another bid.

Bell said in meetings with state and federal lawmakers, all of them were "completely supportive" of starting the bid process. But he acknowledged a few said privately they didn't believe the state had much of a chance of getting the 2022 Games.

And while some groups expressed concern and others support for the proposed gondola running between ski resorts in Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon, exploratory committee members said that project had nothing to do with the bid.

"The things we would do for the Games would be very low impact," said Grant Thomas, the former senior vice president for venues and transportation for the 2002 Games. "We wouldn’t make significant changes environmentally or infrastructure-wise."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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