Utah 'ready, willing, able' to host 2026 Olympics

Published: Monday, Dec. 3 2012 11:50 a.m. MST

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, left, talks with committee member Fraser Bullock after they announced Salt Lake City's interest in pursuing another Winter Olympics bid in 2026 during a press conference Monday, Dec., 3, 2012, at the Olympic museum near Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah intends to make another run at Olympic glory.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Monday that Utah and Salt Lake City are "ready, willing and able" to host the Winter Games in 2026.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he "wholeheartedly" endorses the idea of pursuing the Games again. Salt Lake City would be the host city.

The state and city are well-positioned financially and otherwise, the leaders said. Existing venues and infrastructure would need minimal updates, and the transportation system and hotel lodging has been expanded since Salt Lake City successfully hosted the 2002 Games, officials said.

"It's not a matter of can we do it. We've proven we can do it, and we can do it better than anybody in the world. We've got a great foundation to build upon," Herbert said.

The governor also touted the economic benefit and international exposure Utah would receive from recreating the magic of 2002.

The decision to bid for a future Winter Games comes after the state's Olympic Exploratory Committee unanimously recommended in October that Salt Lake City again go after the worldwide sporting and cultural event. The panel report was sent to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which hasn't decided whether to field an American bid city for 2026.

The Salt Lake Games were widely heralded by the International Olympic Committee and the rest of the sports world as the best-ever Winter Olympics after overcoming both the impact of an international bribery scandal and 9/11.

A future bid would be "open and transparent in every aspect," Herbert said.

"We'll bid on the up and up," he said. "We don't have to do anything squirrelly because we have the best venues, we have the best ability to host the world here and put on the best Winter Olympic Games possible."

The IOC and the USOC have changed the structure of a bid, Bullock said. IOC members who were long the recipients of lavish gifts no longer visit bid cities. Evaluations are done by commissions, he said.

Still, he said, the bid committee would have to be "completely" transparent.

"Every penny that's spent needs to be in the public eye from day one," Bullock said. "If that happens, we can avoid any problems that happened in the past."

Bullock said he doesn't perceive any IOC backlash as a result of the bid scandal.

"I think the larger issue at this point is that Salt Lake hosted the Games 10 years ago," he said. "The IOC likes to move things around the world, so that's our biggest negative."

But, he said, the challenge with the Winter Games is finding a large enough urban center near the mountains. "There are fewer and fewer choices, so that is obviously in Salt Lake's favor," he said.

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 is still several months away, said Fraser Bullock, chief operating officer for the 2002 Olympics and adviser to the Utah exploratory committee.

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 IOC will name the 2026 Winter Games host city in 2019.

Herbert acknowledged that bidding for the Games would be expensive.

The report pegs the cost of a bid at about $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 governor said.

The proposed budget for hosting the 2026 Games is $1.67 billion, about $300 million more than the price tag for 2002. The costs aren't as high as they might be for another city due 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 be repaid from Olympic revenues, and another $75 million to be set aside for post-Games operating expenses.

With new sporting events at the Winter Games, playing host a second time could spread venues to other resort areas. Snowboard cross, ski cross and slope-style skiing were added since 2002. Bullock said The Canyons, which didn't host any 2002 events, would be a great place for those contests.

A repeat, however, wouldn't expand into Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, which were the subject of controversy before Salt Lake City landed the 2002 Olympics. Becker said those canyons remain off limits.

"There's no desire to revisit those issues," the mayor said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com, Twitter: dennisromboy

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