Fort Douglas - targeted for closure by the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Commission - could house hundreds of Olympic athletes if Salt Lake City wins its 1998 Winter Olympics bid.
The historic fort is one of 86 bases the commission recommended last week be closed. Defense Secretary Frank C. Car-lucci must approve the recommendation by Jan. 15, and Congress then considers the closures en masse beginning March 1.Reps. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, and Howard Nielson, R-Utah, introduced legislation Tuesday that would transfer all of Fort Douglas to the University of Utah soon after the base's closure in 1990. (See story, page A1.)
Both city and university officials said the idea of temporarily using the facility to house 1,200 Winter Olympic athletes, officials and media representatives is a proposal worth pursuing.
"It's a valid and interesting question," U. President Chase Peterson said. It's premature to commit to the use now but, "We would look forward to working with the (Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing) Committee," he said.
Peterson, who serves on the committee, said the university wants to make a large contribution to the Olympic bid. "Obviously it (an Olympics) enlarges the resource base for the city and the region," he said.
Salt Lake City would have to negotiate a contract with the U. to temporarily use Fort Douglas facilities should the U. acquire any, said Mike Zuhl, chief of staff for Mayor Palmer DePaulis. "We would have to approach them as if they were a landlord," he said.
But the 80 or so buildings at the fort need considerable renovation work if they are to house athletes, Olympic officials and media representatives, base spokesman Bill Auer said.
Still, housing athletes in military bases is not unheard of. Fort Benjamin Harris, Ind., housed Pan Am Games athletes last year in some buildings while the fort still was operating, Maj. Auer said.
Hansen's and Nielson's bill now reads that if Fort Douglas, once given to the U., is used for non-educational, non-research purposes, "all right, title and interest in and to the property" shall return to the government.
But Hansen said he is completely amenable to permitting use of the fort as anOlympic village although he was unsure whether he would have to amend his bill, according to his press aide, Cathy Gallegos.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, said earlier that he also intends to introduce legislation allocating Fort Douglas land to the U.
The closure commission also proposed partially closing another 59 U.S. bases for a total savings of $5.6 billion over 20 years.