Olympic Exploratory Committee tells governor, mayor to go after 2026 Winter Games

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 7:47 p.m. MDT

The Salt Lake City skyline is lit with Olympic banners on building and the medals plaza in the foreground on Jan. 29, 2002. Photo by Tom Smart

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The state's Olympic Exploratory Committee unanimously recommended Salt Lake City launch a bid to host a second Winter Games, this time in 2026.

"Utah's Olympic legacy is strong and vibrant and ready to provide the foundation for a future Olympic Winter Games," the committee stated in a 36-page report to Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker released Thursday.

Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who served as lead co-chairman of the committee, said he expects the governor and the mayor to give the bid the go-ahead. Their decision is expected sometime in November.

"The main ingredient of this is that we've done this. We know we can do it," Bell said. "We're excited. We're going to get in line, and we're going to make a great pitch, I believe, assuming the governor and the mayor approve it, as I expect them to." 

Bell said the committee, made up of business, government, sports and community leaders, received no negative comments about trying for a repeat of the 2002 Winter Games during months of meetings.

"It really was somewhat of a love fest, looking at it again and hoping we could host it again," said Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer of the 2002 Olympics and an adviser to the committee.

The governor told reporters he has received the report and will review it over the next few weeks before making a decision.

The mayor has said public enthusiasm alone is not a good enough reason to pursue what he called a "very serious, expensive undertaking." His spokesman, Art Raymond, said Becker is "definitely taking a very close look at it."

It's up the U.S. Olympic Committee to decide whether to field an American bid city. In July, the USOC dashed Salt Lake City's hopes of bidding for the 2022 Winter Games by announcing it would sit out the competition.

The USOC is currently trying to determine whether it might be better to bid for the 2024 Summer Games rather than the 2026 Winter Games, a decision expected sometime in the next two years. 

Even if the USOC decides to accept bids for 2026, an American contender likely won't be chosen for at least another four years. The International Olympic Committee will name the host of the 2026 Winter Games in 2019.

Hosting a Summer Games comes with staggering costs, Bullock said, making it more likely that the USOC will ultimately decide to bid for the smaller Winter Games given the nation's economic situation.

That's an advantage for Salt Lake, he said.

"We have an excellent grasp on the economics of the Games. We know we can put on great Games at a very reasonable cost because of the infrastructure we have in place, and that's unique in the United States," Bullock said.

Both Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area were actively seeking to be selected as the USOC's choice for 2022, and both are waiting to see what the USOC decides about 2026 before resuming their efforts.

The report pegs the cost of a bid at less than $1 million at the USOC level and between $25 million and $30 million to compete internationally. All of the bid costs would be paid privately, the report states.

The proposed budget for hosting the 2026 Games is $1.67 billion, about $300 million more than the price tag for 2002, Bullock said. The costs aren't as high as they might be for another city, thanks to projected savings on planning costs and venue construction.

The only cost to taxpayers identified in the budget is $85 million to upgrade the bobsled, luge and skeleton track, speedskating oval and other Olympic facilities. The budget calls for the money to repaid from Olympic revenues, and another $75 million to be set aside for post-Games operating expenses.

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