Regional forum feels spirit of 2012 Bid for Olympics could make Baltimore and D.C. a region at last

November 18, 1998|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

One of the premier goals on the minds of speakers and people attending a town hall-style forum on regional cooperation last night was the Washington-Baltimore effort to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics here.

More than 100 people came to the gathering, sponsored by The Sun, called "Baltimore-Washington Regional Cooperation: Opportunities and Obstacles."

"We have a wonderful opportunity with respect to the Olympics," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "This bid helps focus us as a region in a way that nothing else has done in the past decade."

Schmoke was among four speakers who fielded questions at the forum at Center Stage. The others were Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan; Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive officer of Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional marketing and economic development group; and Kenneth R. Sparks, executive vice president of the Federal City Council in Washington.

Although there have been at least two other regional projects in recent years, they have met with limited success, according to Sparks. He cited 1970s efforts toward regional cooperation in planning for the American bicentennial. And, during the 1970s and early 1980s, a project to market Baltimore and Washington together as a common market never took off.

But the Olympics have the potential to change all that, Sparks said. "I think this time with the prize being so great, we have a great shot at pulling it off," he said.

The challenge is formidable as the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition competes against San Francisco; Dallas; Cincinnati; Houston; New York; Seattle; Tampa-Orlando, Fla.; and Los Angeles.

When coalition members talk about the Olympic Games, they talk about the world's largest economic development opportunity. The 1996 Atlanta Games produced $5.1 billion for Georgia's economy, created more than 80,000 jobs and generated between $100 million and $200 million in tax revenue.

The United States Olympic Committee will choose a U.S. candidate city in 2002. An international competition is to follow, with the International Olympic Committee selecting the host city in 2005.

Although the Olympics is one example of a huge economic development undertaking, economic development in all its forms must be a priority for any vibrant community, Morfessis said.

"It is vitally important from a regional standpoint that economic development be at the top of our collective agendas," she said. "Our economic livelihoods are inextricably linked."

Those links seldom are more apparent than in issues of transportation, Duncan noted.

"We need to get people to their jobs, get goods and services to their destinations in a timely fashion," he said. "If we can't get goods and services out, people are going to start to leave."

In the past few days, the necessity of obtaining city support for the Olympics in a formal resolution has spurred Baltimore City Council members to plan a meeting with their newly elected counterparts in Washington, Schmoke said.

"Washington and Baltimore have in the past been two jurisdictions separated by a common language," Schmoke said. "The political thinking has lagged way behind the economic development thinking. Now, political activity is starting to catch up."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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