Summer Olympics Games a matchmaker for cities

Hope of 2012 prize spurs Baltimore, Washington to unite

September 20, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

Organizers leading the blitz to capture the Summer Olympic Games for the Washington-Baltimore area in 2012 started out anything but a unified team.

At first, the neighboring cities unwittingly competed against each another for the most coveted prize in amateur athletics.

The allure was clear. Each group saw the chance for billions of dollars in economic impact, a tourism boost that could last decades and international exposure they could never afford to buy.

The opportunity came as each city struggled with crime, declining population and troubled schools. Washington had the additional yoke of fiscal problems and Mayor Marion Barry Jr.'s ,, tarnished image. Baltimore struggled to attract new business.

It wasn't unusual for the two cities, barely 40 miles apart, to be at odds. The pattern had been well established over the years.

But something unusual, nearly unprecedented, happened this time. Representatives from the two cities started talking about what they could achieve if they worked together.

And the boundaries between an Olympic organizing group called Baltimore and Beyond and some business leaders from Washington and Northern Virginia melted in light of a common goal, winning the Olympic Games for the region.

The cities are competing against San Francisco; Arlington, Texas; Cincinnati; Houston; New York; Seattle; Tampa-Orlando, Fla.; and Los Angeles.

The story of the local bid is one of people with the persistence to chase a dream while others snickered. It's about people -- far too many to name -- so caught up with an idea that they were willing to invest their own time and money to see it launched.

At first, the effort focused on the 2008 Games. Then the U.S. Olympic Committee, which selects a candidate city to submit to the International Olympic Committee, changed the year to 2012. Organizers in Baltimore and Washington figured that facilities throughout the region could be used to bolster an Olympic bid, but each side saw its city at the core.

But with the birth of the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition, as the joint effort is now called, the competing cities adopted a single vision for grabbing the five Olympic rings.

Fellow attorney

Minutes into the Chinese food, Paul Levy broadsided his friend ++ and fellow attorney Keith Rosenberg with a question: How about trying to bring the Olympics to the Baltimore area?

"You're out of your mind," Rosenberg told him on that mid-August day in 1996.

"I was just at the Olympics, and you've never seen anything like this," Levy countered. "I think we could do this here."

Despite the 15-year gap in their ages, the two lawyers, who had met seven years earlier, had slipped into an easy friendship after working on cases together.

Rosenberg, 51, had lived in Maryland since 1968 and had been an attorney in Baltimore for four years before becoming a partner a Washington firm.

Levy, 36, had practiced law in Chevy Chase and Baltimore and, (( although he came from Montgomery County, claimed a stronger kinship to Baltimore than to Washington. A shared passion for sports gave the men plenty to talk about that day over lunch at the Chevy Chase Pavilion.

Rosenberg listened. At one point, he leaned back in his chair, scratched his chin and said, "Boy, it would be a big coup." He left an hour later, promising to think about it.

That night, he couldn't sleep.

"In my mind, I started to see it," Rosenberg said. "I tried to think of what the place would look like in 2008. If we could do this and win it, and bring the Olympics here, we could bring people back to the city."

The same idea

They had no idea that about 35 miles away, someone had the same idea.

From her office in Georgetown, Elizabeth Ganzi made dozens of trips to Atlanta in 1995 and 1996 for her company, Ganzi Productions Inc., which does marketing, special events and publicity. Her time was spent designing promotions and events for the Olympics and developing soccer and other venues for Coca-Cola Co., one of the sponsors.

"I kept coming back to our city and thinking, 'Why can't we have the Olympics in our nation's capital?' " said Ganzi, 33. "I found 67 percent of the Olympics had been granted to capitals over 100 years. And we're the most international and powerful capital in the world."

During the six months leading up to the 1996 Games, when Ganzi was based almost exclusively in Atlanta, the idea took shape.

"There's a spirit to the Olympics that makes you want to do more," she said. "I had the Olympic bug."

Ganzi, who worked on the visit of Pope John Paul II to Baltimore in October 1995, knew that putting together an Olympic bid would make that job look easy. But she wasn't discouraged.

"My dad taught me I could do anything I wanted to," she said. "I knew the Olympics wasn't going to fix our city. But I always said that it would bring our region together in a way that had never been done before."

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