Park City unexpectedly delves into delicate topic of Winter Olympic corporatization
City Council discussion could foreshadow more difficult talks later about influence of business on Games
Park City wants to celebrate the Winter Olympics in February, but it is not clear whether podium spots will be reserved for Coca-Cola, Visa and Samsung.
Mayor Nann Worel and the Park City Council on Thursday held a discussion about the plans to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 2002 Winter Olympics while also marking the Games of this year. In an intriguing sidebar to the overall talk, the elected officials unexpectedly addressed the corporate influence on the Olympics.
The soft-drink maker, credit card issuer and electronics firm are three of the International Olympic Committee’s sponsors. Others include Intel, Bridgestone and Panasonic. The corporations through their support enjoy visibility during two of the world’s largest events — the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics.
The elected officials were speaking about the upcoming commemorations, but the comments about the corporate influence were especially noteworthy as the state continues the efforts to host a second Winter Olympics as early as the 2030 edition. There would likely be broad local discussions, some of them delicate, about the corporate presence in an Olympics, including locations and what sort of setups there would be in Park City during a Games, if one is awarded.
City Councilor Jeremy Rubell broached the topic of the influence of corporations on the anniversary event. The comment from Rubell and ensuing discussion were brief, but they were some of the highlights on Thursday.
“I’m really excited to see the focus of all this stuff on the sport and the community and not on commercial aspects, sponsorships and, you know, brands everywhere,” Rubell said.
He did not provide details. It was not clear at the end of the week how heavy a corporate presence will be in Park City for the anniversary celebrations, but at least one major company, automaker Toyota, is scheduled to present a Winter Sports Festival in City Park in conjunction with the commemoration. Toyota is an official Olympic sponsor. The elected officials on Thursday did not discuss the planned role of Toyota in the commemoration as they spoke more generally about commercialism.
Max Doilney, another member of the City Council, engaged Rubell about the corporate influence. He acknowledged the Games are commercialized, but he also said the Olympic competitors are instead focused on their events. Doilney added that the attention of Park City as a community was centered on the competitions during the 2002 Winter Olympics, when upward of 50% of the events were held in the area. There was also a heavy corporate presence in Park City during the Games of 2002.
“For the athletes, it’s all about the sport. For this community it was all about the sport. I remember all of the Games. I remember all of the events,” he said. “I don’t remember the sponsors who made it happen.”
The comments on Thursday could foreshadow more difficult discussions later if an Olympics is awarded. The elected officials and City Hall staffers at that time would need to address what would likely be widespread interest by corporations in temporary locations in Park City along Main Street and elsewhere in the community. Firms would be expected to seek to occupy City Hall-controlled public spaces as well as land or buildings owned by the private sector. They would transform the properties for the Games with their own branding for public activities and private functions.
Park City has long seen itself as having an independent streak even amid increasing corporate pressure on the community with the changes in ownership in the ski industry and the arrival of national and international brands on Main Street. There seems to be at least some continuing community mistrust of the corporate presence.
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Park City Council members have directed staffers to continue working on a plan to develop affordable housing on a site 1 ½ miles south of City Hall on Marsac Avenue. Staffers are recommending the city release a request for proposals (RFP) to find interested entities to participate in a public-private partnership to build the project.