A proponent of bringing the 1998 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City said Tuesday the games could unite Utah and prove it's not a one-culture society, while an opponent said past Olympiads have been financial fiascos that haunted taxpayers in host communities for years afterward.
The two arguments were part of a debate between Olympics proponent Patrick Shea, a Salt Lake attorney, and Alexis Kelner, an environmentalist and free-lance writer, which took place in the First Unitarian Church, 569 S. 13th East.Kelner, who is active in various environmental groups, said many of the Olympiads since 1960, both summer and winter, have been financially unsuccessful.
Obviously relishing the public forum, one of the first that has been afforded the opposition group, Kelner said if unity is the goal, Utahns would be better served putting the effort behind more urgent needs such as public and higher education.
"They have brought up a very interesting concept, that is that the Olympics would unite Utahns toward a common goal," Kelner said. "Could we possibly have a better way to unite Utahns? I think we do! How about having everyone work toward a public education system that is the best in the world, the best in the country?"
Kelner said this would provide a longer lasting legacy, one that could be exhibited to the world for years to come.
Kelner said he does not oppose the Olympics but he is concerned at the way the issue has been "pushed" on the public without much public debate. He said public funding and potential environmental impacts must be fully studied and discussed. He said without that discussion, an Olympic bid could be divisive. He said this is already occurring and that public opinion polls substantiate that view, indicating public support has dwindled from a 5-1 favorable margin in 1985 to about a 2-1 margin now.
Shea agreed there are other more long lasting issues that require public unity. But he said, "Any good chemist at the University of Utah knows that you need a catalyst."
Shea acknowledged that the venture includes risk. But he said Utah's situation is different from the other cities cited by Kelner.
"To me, we need to talk about Utah," Shea said. "We obviously need to learn the lessons they (the other cities) learned. We need to make calculations on a financial basis that is sound. But we also need to be, I think, willing to invest in the future."
Kelner said Utah must avoid borrowing from the future (as bonding would do) to pay for the present. He said ways must be found to finance the Olympics, such as a tax checkoff system similar to that used to support wildlife management. He said the Olympics cannot be viewed in the same light as a jail or government complex - items needed to serve the public need. He said bonding for the Olympics does not make good fiscal sense.