It was a tough call for most legislators, but getting state government involved in helping the Utah Jazz build a new arena and lending support to Salt Lake City's Winter Olympics bid makes sense for the state, the speaker of the Utah House said.
Nolan Karras, R-Roy, told the Bountiful Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that the Legislature "mortgaged the future" on the Jazz to help improve the image of the state."We were working under the knowledge that the team, if once gone, would never come back," Karras said noting he would rather have Utah mentioned on sportscasts at the same time as Denver and Phoenix rather than become another Missoula, Mont.
Already that commitment to help the Jazz build a new arena and Salt Lake City and County expand its convention center is reaping dividends. An unnamed national hotel chain will soon announce its intentions to build a 1,000-room hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, Karras said.
He said that same image-building was part of the Legislature's decision to help fund facilities for the Winter Games if voters approve the move on a referendum. Although the referendum makes the plan "a high-risk game," he predicted Utahns will support it.
"I am so tired of Utahns beating themselves up," Karras said. "I wanted to bring something forward that is positive."
He said the broader scope of the Olympics is to create an "amateur sports capital" that will make Utah an important winter sports training ground and attract tourists.
He said the state's "heavyweights" will be involved in convincing the U.S. Olympic Committee in June to back Salt Lake City's bid for the Games in 1998. He said he and Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, are already planning to attend the meetings.
"We can host an international event better than anybody," Karras said, noting that between Logan and Provo there are more Japanese speakers, for example, than in competing areas. That is a result of the LDS Church missionary program.
He envisions every city from Logan to Cedar City hosting the visitors and athletes of one country.
"Every town can take a country and provide a celebration. I think we can involve a lot of people in the Olympic movement," Karras said.
Speaking about the legislative session as a whole, Karras said he is glad that most people thought it was "boring." He had wanted it to be that way.
"Except for the LDS Church contribution and Sen. Arnold Christensen's comment on a women's group it was a pretty smooth session," Karras said. (Christensen, Senate president, using SOW - an acronym for the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women, referred to its members as "sows.") "I was anxious to keep the session calm and heal wounds."
During the meeting Karras also took pot shots at the Utah Transit Authority and gave his reasons for not supporting a plan to dike the Great Salt Lake to create a body of fresh water.
He said UTA officials need to become more accountable and stop running "ego ads" on television. He also said he is dubious about the lake-diking project because of past water developments that promised to be catalysts for economic development - in particular Willard Bay.