With talk of another Olympics, a talk about money could start soon | ParkRecord.com

With talk of another Olympics, a talk about money could start soon

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

the spring of 1989, Park City was trapped in an economic malaise.

The city had already been reborn through the ski industry, but the boom era of the 1990s was still a few years away. It was amid that backdrop that City Hall officials of the time agreed to partner with the leaders of what was a fledgling attempt to win a Winter Olympics for Utah, with Park City being seen as a critical component to an Olympic bid.

In March of that year, as Utah was readying an ultimately unsuccessful bid for the 1998 Winter Olympics, City Hall made the first Olympic bid-related payment using taxpayer money, contributing $25,000 to Salt Lake City to assist the capital city’s Olympic efforts. On the same day March 15, 1989 City Hall acted as a conduit for another $45,000 in private donations to the Olympic bid.

City Hall between March 1989 and June 1995, the month that the 2002 Winter Olympics were awarded to Utah, provided Olympic bidders with $65,000 in taxpayer money and acted as a conduit for another $60,000.

Park City officials compiled the numbers more than a decade ago, at the height of the bribery scandal that tarnished the Olympic-bidding process. They were released as questions arose about how the Olympic bidders used the money from City Hall. Olympic organizers later said the money from places like Park City was not spent inappropriately.

Gov. Gary Herbert last week formed a committee to explore whether the state should enter a bid for the Winter Olympics in 2022 or 2026. There are at least five people with ties to Park City on the committee. None are from City Hall, however.

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The committee plans to take three or four months review whether the state should submit a bid for either 2022 or 2026. The Olympics in 2022 will be awarded by the International Olympic Committee in 2015. The IOC will award the 2026 Olympics four years later.

If the committee recommends the state pursue a second Winter Olympics, it seems plausible that City Hall will again be asked to make some sort of financial commitment to the efforts, perhaps through donations like the ones in the 1980s and the 1990s. Inflation in the years since could push up the figures in a bid for 2022.

The timeline of three or four months coincides with City Hall’s annual budget process, which stretches from the spring until the early summer.

In the bid era, the City Hall funding to the Olympic efforts started roughly two years before Nagano, Japan, was selected as the host of the 1998 Winter Olympics over Salt Lake City. A similar timeline for a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics would hold that City Hall monies, if they are sought, could be requested in 2013. The next municipal budget, which will be crafted in the spring and summer, will cover the period between mid-2012 and mid-2013.

It is difficult to gauge what sort of support there would be both among the Park City Council and rank-and-file Parkites — if City Hall is asked to put public monies toward any efforts for the Winter Olympics in 2022 or 2026.

The municipal finances are far stronger than those of the late 1980s, but they are not as robust as they were in the boom years just before the recession. Parkites could fall into various camps if City Hall money is sought. One would see the prospects of another Olympics as worthy of taxpayer expense, arguing 2002 heralded in an impressive expansion of the economy and brought Park City global publicity. Another could view a second Olympics as something that is unneeded and not worthy of taxpayer funding.

Mayor Dana Williams, who took office the month before the Olympics in 2002 but was not involved in City Hall’s planning efforts for the Games, said it is too early to discuss any financial commitments from the municipal government if the 2022 Olympics are sought. He does not anticipate officials at City Hall becoming involved unless the committee seated by the governor recommends an Olympic bid be launched.

Williams said he doesn’t "have any problem" considering a request for City Hall funding if one is made, saying the Olympics in 2002 brought Park City long-term benefits.

"I think we would certainly be willing to take a good look at it," the mayor said.