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Ravell Call, Deseret News
The Olympic curling venue at the Ogden Ice Sheet is pictured on Feb.17, 2002.

SALT LAKE CITY — As the deadline for another Olympic bid nears, Utah lawmakers are rushing through a last-minute bill that creates a new grant program so work can start on nearly $40 million in needed repairs to 2002 Winter Games facilities.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, the sponsor of HB484, said he expects the Legislature to deposit $8.5 million in the new "Winter Sports Venue Grant Fund" before the session ends at midnight Thursday.

In future years, $2.5 million would likely be added to the fund annually, Hutchings said.

Legislative leaders have already committed to spending the money needed over the next 10 years to ready the state's bobsled, luge and skeleton track, ski jumps, speed-skating oval and other Olympic facilities used for training and competitions.

Their pledge came in October, after a legislative audit identified $24.7 million in capital improvements needed to bring the facilities back up to 2002 Games standards and another $14.6 million to meet current technical requirements.

That includes $5 million to fix the track's collapsing retaining walls at the Utah Olympic Park near Park City and $1.75 million to replace the patched roof over the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, according to the audit.

Hutchings deemed his bill critical to keeping Utah "Olympic ready" as the state pursues support from national and international Olympic officials for another Winter Games, likely for 2030.

"They're looking. The last thing we want to do is have them come look and see dilapidated venues that don't meet spec anymore, and they go, 'Oh, hey, we'll host it on that beat-up bobsled run over there,'" he said.

The bill was approved unanimously by the House Government Operations Committee and later passed the House, 70-0, after changes were made to spell out the fund is to be used for public facilities, not ski resorts. It now goes to the Senate.

"I think this is another indication that Utah is solidly behind the Olympic movement and wants the Olympics back," said Fraser Bullock, a leader of the effort to secure another Winter Olympics for Utah and the chief operating officer of the 2002 Games.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, which last week saw the resignation of CEO Scott Blackmun following a sex abuse scandal involving a team doctor, has until March 31 to decide whether an American city should bid for the 2026 Winter Games.

Because the 2028 Summer Games were awarded last year to Los Angeles and that city has already locked up domestic sponsorship deals through then, it would be difficult for another U.S. city to host in 2026.

The IOC took the unusual step of naming the hosts of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Games at the same time, something Bullock said he has been told by an unnamed senior IOC official could happen again with the 2026 and 2030 Winter Games.

Bullock said the Legislature's actions will go a long way to helping Salt Lake "get in the right spot" to stay competitive. Both Denver and the Reno-Tahoe area are eying a Winter Games.

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"The fact that Utah continues to show the Olympic movement that this is very important to us in the state is a huge indicator to them of our committment," he said. "You look at Utah, and we're hitting on all cylinders."

Earlier this session, the Legislature passed a resolution declaring Utah "ready, willing and able" to host another Games. The state's Olympic Exploratory Committee voted to bid again after a lengthy report showed it could cost lessthan it did in 2002.

A poll commissioned by the exploratory committee, which included state and local officials, community and business leaders, and Olympic athletes, found that 89 percent of Utahns support a new bid.