'Together we stand divided we fall'

Olympics: The Baltimore-Washington region faces a host of hurdles in landing the 2012 Summer Games.

March 15, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Hotel rooms stand at 68,000 and rising. Three sports complexes have sprouted in the past year alone. And with its airports and Beltway road systems in place, Washington and Baltimore already handle millions of tourists each year.

So what obstacle lies ahead for luring the Olympic Games to the region? An ingredient strangely foreign to cities existing less than 50 miles apart for close to two centuries: teamwork.

Much as in a sporting event, winning the right to play host to the 2012 Summer Olympic Games requires clearing political, financial and logistical hurdles, ranging from providing a supportive "sports culture" to corraling corporate backers.

But in the end, victory depends on the same elements it takes to win most contests: stamina and a relentless team effort to be the last bid standing.

"It's a contest, and it's a contest where you have to put up what you have to offer," said Billy Payne, the leader of Atlanta's winning bid for the 1996 Summer Games. "And when you make a proposal to the Olympic committee, you must do so as a total and complete universe."

Regional supporters wooing the Olympics acknowledge that Washington and Baltimore haven't always stood comfortably together.

Initially, the two cities sent individual bids for the 2012 Games. Talks to combine the bids began in the fall at the suggestion of Mary E. Junck, president of Times Mirror Co.'s eastern newspapers, which include The Sun; and Donald E. Graham, chairman of the Washington Post Co.

"Teamwork means forgetting the past," said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a business group created in part to blend the two cities' economies. "The only way we're going to win is combining these efforts."

Many factors favor the Baltimore-Washington area's joint effort. The scheduled opening of the Ravens football stadium in Baltimore this year and the openings of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Prince George's County and the MCI Center in Washington last year give the region sufficient large-venue space.

The significant number of universities in the region should provide enough dormitory space to house athletes and offer more places to conduct sporting events. One key amenity regional organizers covet is high-speed rail service between the two cities so that visitors can shuttle back and forth to events.

Because the next three Summer Olympics will be held in other countries, Olympic organizers say the 2012 games will likely return to the United States, which provides greater financial backing and support from its Olympic committee than any other country.

Capital choice

Washington is enticing to Olympic organizers because it is the nation's capital and is in the East Coast television market, making network organization easier. Adding Baltimore with its stadiums and hotels to the mix strengthens the regional proposal, which can expect stiff competition.

Eight other U.S. cities -- Cincinnati; Houston; Los Angeles; New York City; San Francisco; Seattle; Tampa, Fla.; and Arlington, Texas -- will try to convince the U.S. Olympic Committee's 107 voting members that their regions have what it takes to play host to the Games.

Over the next two years, the cities must address 19 issues, from accommodations for athletes to air quality. The effort will require intense lobbying as well as wining and dining committee members across the nation.

Businesses along the Baltimore-Washington corridor are showing team commitment by raising half of the up to $12 million needed to make a solid bid. Among those who attended a regional meeting in Annapolis on Tuesday were executives from NationsBank; Mobil Oil of Fairfax, Va.; Baltimore's Legg-Mason; Bethesda's Host Marriott Corp.; and Bell Atlantic-Washington.

"That meeting was very historic for this area," said John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, which has taken the lead in the dual-bid effort. "We have two disparate groups, and we're trying to get married. Together we stand; divided we fall."

The first win

If Washington and Baltimore are successful at home and win the U.S. committee's bid in 2002, it must repeat its performance, raising an estimated $20 million to $30 million to persuade 110 International Olympic Committee members, who will be lobbied by competing cities worldwide.

The International Olympic Committee will make its selection in 2005. Win that bid and one task remains: putting on the Games. Atlanta organizers spent about $1.5 billion two years ago.

"To make the bid is one thing," said Anita DeFrantz, vice president of the International Olympic Committee. "Putting on the Games is another arena."

Olympic bid history is littered with shattered plans. DeFrantz, who lives in Los Angeles, remembers her city once losing out to Detroit as the U.S. host city. Remember the Detroit Games? They never happened. And Denver once won the bid, only to rescind it after severe protest from residents who opposed the event.

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