Saturday, February 05, 2011

Bonanza Column 222 – Olympics in Tahoe? Hmm…

Last Friday there was a presentation at SNC regarding the efforts of the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition (RTWGC) to bring the 2022 Winter Olympics to our area. I won't say I went into the meeting with an open mind – more like slightly ajar – it seemed to me that this was likely to be yet another instance of Reno interests foisting something on the Lake without regard to what Basin residents want or what is important to us. While not 100% sold, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Jon Killoran is the CEO of RTWGC and he gives a heckuva presentation. He anticipated most of the concerns of his audience and was open to listening and learning – while clearly committed to his cause, he didn't seem to me to be there to convince, so much as to converse – to have a give and take in which he came across as genuinely eager to learn and to include the concerns of everyone who will be affected by the Games if RTWGC's bid is successful.

The process is a long and complicated one – unlike other countries where bids are government-sponsored and funded, in the US bids are generated by non-profits like RTWGC and these groups compete before the USOC to be the one venue offered by the USOC to the IOC, who make the final decision. Killoran makes a compelling case for having the games here and for the potential long-lasting benefits to our area.

Reno-Tahoe was the runner-up to Salt Lake City in 1998 and in 2002 when Salt Lake made the winning bid. Unlike the Summer Games, there are relatively few areas that can host the Winter competition – basically North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. 2022 seems a long way off, but it is the first bid that is available now, and the process takes quite a while – the USOC will make its selection in 2013 and the IOC will make the final choice in the Summer of 2015, so RTWGC is not starting any too early.

Here's the part that didn't quite sell me: Killoran made extensive use of the results of the games in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010 as being most comparable to RTWGC's plans. Both these games had effects on the areas where they were held that were clearly beneficial – the Salt Lake City Airport, for example, is one of the best in the country and was extensively renovated for the games. Other improvements include light rail, highways and other infrastructure, and, of course, increased business before, during, and after the games. I don't question these results – what does bother me, and what I think the Coalition needs to pay close attention to is the differences between the three areas. The Vancouver Metropolitan Area has a population of about 2.25 million people. Salt Lake City Metro is about 1.1 million. Reno is about 420,000 – that's a big difference, so let's take the Vancouver comparison with a grain of salt. Salt Lake is still over twice our size and closer to its mountain venues. I'm not saying this invalidates the comparison, just that it's something we need to take into account.

The big issue, of course, is impact. Killoran showed me impressive awareness and concern for the potential environmental effects of the Games at the Lake. Unlike the Squaw Valley Games in 1960, when all 17 events were held at Squaw, only about 20% of the 87 events in 2022 would be held around the Basin – the rest presumably in and around Reno. Killoran stated an unequivocal commitment that there will be "no white elephants left behind" in the form of overbuilt and unusable venues – whether he and RTWGC can keep that commitment remains to be seen, but at least the commitment is there.

There are those here in the Basin whose first response to any potential large impact, whether it's the Olympics or Boulder Bay, to start from "no" and to demand to be convinced. I'd suggest they reconsider this stance where RTWGC is concerned. If the Coalition's intentions come to fruition, much of what environmentalists around the lake have been advocating will come to pass more quickly and less expensively than they might otherwise – improved infrastructure, better public transportation, lake ferries, all figure in the plans, and would all happen in the next 11 years. New "green" public buildings are almost a certainty, and based on current figures we already have more accommodations than Salt Lake had by a factor of two, so no new tourist venues would be needed. For those concerned about jobs, while not all of the projected 50,000 or so jobs would remain after the games, many would and the run-up to the games would provide extensive employment during a period of economic recovery.

As I said, I'm not 100% sold, but I'm way more positive than I was going into the meeting. I recommend you begin to look into this effort for yourself – start at and go from there; it's worth serious consideration.

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