Should the state offer to pay for facilities in an effort to land the United States Olympic Festival for the area in either 1993, 1994 or 1995?
That could be the multi-million dollar question attached to the news that the state has become one of five finalists to land the competition in any of the three years leading up to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Maryland, St. Louis, San Antonio, Denver and Miami are finalists to host the festivals, which are off-year competitions for American Olympic hopefuls.
A published report in the Philadelphia Inquirer indicated that Maryland officials had pledged to build whatever facilities were necessary to land the festival.
However, James Narron, director of special projects for the state department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said the process for selecting the five finalists did not involve facilities yet to be built, but rather structures that were already in existence.
"Any guarantees on facilities have not even been presented yet," said Narron. "We were judged simply on what we have."
Diane Hovenkamp, executive director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, said that city's bid was upstaged by a very strong Maryland presentation. She said it included a pledge by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to build whatever structures were needed for the festival.
"Maryland's governor got very involved in the process," Hovenkamp told the Inquirer. "He guaranteed the United States Olympic Committee money over and above what the minimum guarantee was."
Hovenkamp added, though, that she had not seen Maryland's bid, nor heard the state's presentation, but was commenting on a feeling that existed among other bidders.
Sheila Walker, the USOC's director of Olympic Festivals, said Maryland would need to build an aquatic facility for swimming and diving, and would need to construct a velodrome (bicycle track) if the state were awarded the festival in 1995.
Walker said the current absence of those facilities would not obstruct a bid for the festival and that the construction of a facility could be contingent on being awarded the festival.
"Everybody's back to zero. Everyone is deemed to be acceptable," said Walker.
State officials are expected to use a number of college facilities, including the College Park and Baltimore County campuses of the University of Maryland, as well as Towson State, as housing and competition sites. Events would also be held at Capital Centre and the Baltimore Arena.
Walker said a panel of experts will visit each of the five bidders in early December to inspect existing structures and to gauge whether needed buildings can be constructed in time.
The jurisdictions will make final presentations at the end of January, 1991, and final selections are expected around Feb. 1.
The festival, generally spread over a seven- to 10-day period, can pump millions of dollars into a local economy, but can be costly as well.
For example, Atlanta officials are estimating that construction of new facilities for the 1996 Summer Games will be over $350 million.
Included in that cost is $22.6 million for a new swimming facility and $14.3 million for a velodrome, according to Bob Brennan, a spokesman for the Atlanta Organizing Committee.
Brennan added that the estimates for the swimming and bicycling facilities are construction costs, since the University of Georgia owns the land where each structure will be located.