SALT LAKE CITY — Utah needs to spend more than $39 million to ready the ski jumps, speedskating oval, bobsled track and other Olympic facilities for hosting another Winter Games, according to a legislative audit released Tuesday.
"Maintaining Olympic assets is essential for an effective Olympic bid," the legislative auditor general's report stated, recommending that the state support ongoing improvements and upgrades to the former 2002 Winter Games venues.
The report, delivered to the Legislative Audit Subcommittee, was written before Monday's announcement that an Olympic exploratory committee is being formed to look at bidding for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games.
No action was taken on the recommendations in the report by the legislative leaders who serve on the audit subcommittee, but House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake, asked for a study of the economic benefits of the expenditure.
"My gut feeling is it's worth it," King said, but he wants that to be confirmed with data about the return on the investment.
The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which oversees the Olympic Park's track, ski jumps and other facilities, as well as the oval and Soldier Hollow cross-country skiing and biathlon venue in Midway, identified needs that add up to $39.3 million.
"As the report highlights, it is a large number," Colin Hilton, the foundation's president and CEO, told the subcommittee. But he said the facilities are at a crossroads and need help to continue.
Asked how soon that help is needed, Hilton answered, "I would say today."
The funding sought includes $24.7 million for capital improvements to bring the facilities back up to 2002 Games standards and another $14.6 million to meet current technical requirements.
The foundation agreed with the audit recommendations and noted there would be as much as another $35 million in improvements needed to host another Olympics. That money would be expected to come from Games organizers.
Utah taxpayers invested $59 million to build Olympic facilities even before Salt Lake was selected to host the 2002 Games. That money was repaid with Games profits, also used to establish a $76 million endowment for the facilities.
The venues continue to be used for national and international competitions, as well as for training by both Olympians and aspiring Olympians from around the world.
But the endowment hasn't been enough to keep up with major repairs needed to facilities that have aged 15 years since 2002, like collapsing retaining walls around the bobsled, luge and skeleton track at the Utah Olympic Park near Park City.
The walls that protect the track and cooling system pipes containing a toxic refrigerant will cost $5 million to fix over five years, while replacing the roof over the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns has a $1.75 million price tag, the report stated.
The report details making the investment over 10 years, possibly through an annual appropriation of $3.93 million by the Utah Legislature. State lawmakers are already putting $500,000 annually toward capital improvements for Olympic facilities.
The foundation projects contributing some $21 million in maintenance costs for the facilities over the next decade, and it has already done some capital improvements, including expanding the Olympic ski jump training pool.
But the report noted the facilities are costly to operate and rarely make money. Using the foundation endowment to pay for the $39.3 million in upgrades would deplete the fund by 2028.
Monday's announcement that Salt Lake is getting closer to a bid for another Winter Games likely means the timetable for coming up with state tax dollars would have to be accelerated.
The new exploratory committee will include a number of political leaders, including Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, and House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, as well as Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
Hughes said the bid discussions come at a time when the state was already likely to be looking at spending money on the facilities to keep them "top tier."
"So it's a great time, I think, to throw our hat in," he said. At the meeting Tuesday, the speaker said the appropriation being sought should be seen as "anyway costs" and not considered part of the price tag for an Olympic bid.1 comment on this story
The exploratory committee is expected to make a recommendation on another bid by Feb. 1, 2018, and the U.S. Olympic Committee has until March 31, 2018, to decide whether to advance an American city.
Besides Salt Lake, Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area have expressed interest in bidding. The USOC announced last week that after the award of the 2028 Summer Games to Los Angeles, it was time to focus on getting a Winter Games.
The IOC is expected to award the 2026 and possibly the 2030 Winter Games in the fall of 2019. The leading contender for 2026, Innsbruck, dropped out of the race last weekend after Austrian voters rejected a referendum backing a bid.