Joint Olympic bid looks like golden idea

March 22, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

Imagine a nautical parade of flags in the Inner Harbor as part of the Olympic opening ceremonies, Cal Ripken lighting an Olympic flame atop Federal Hill, giant video screens showing the parade of athletes on the National Mall in Washington.

Imagine America's newest Mary Lou Retton winning gold medals in gymnastics at the new Baltimore Arena. The electricity of gold-medal soccer matches at PSINet Stadium. The emotion of a U.S.-Cuba gold-medal baseball game at Camden Yards.

When first proposed, the idea of a two-city bid for the 2012 Olympics seemed impractical. But no less an authority than Billy Payne, the chief organizer of the Atlanta Olympics, said Monday that the joint Baltimore-Washington effort offers distinct advantages.

"It's an asset," Payne said. "I don't think it's a detriment at all."

One thing is certain: The list of proposed venues released by the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition is not a stretch of the imagination. Events would take place in five hubs -- the two downtowns, Annapolis, Prince George's County and Northern Virginia. And most of the venues are already in place.

The coalition is using the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics as its model, and those Games rank among the most successful ever. Washington's name likely would be on the bid, satisfying the International Olympic Committee's preference for a single host city. But clearly, the Olympics would be a regional event.

The 2000 Sydney Games will be more concentrated, with 15 of the 28 events taking place at an Olympic Park nine miles west of the city, and more than two-thirds of the competitors able to walk to their events from the athletes' village. But those Olympics will be the exception, not the rule, Payne said.

"There's definitely recognition among the Olympic family that the Games have become so huge that it is exceedingly difficult to deliver as part of any plan a fairly composite park-like venue setting like we saw in Munich in 1972," said Payne, now a vice-chairman for Premier Technologies in Atlanta.

"The fact that so many sports have been added -- and so many teams have been added to the existing sports -- they've pretty much acknowledged that they're going to be more spread out. I would not think that would be a detriment to anybody's proposal.

"More important would be the quality of the venues and if, in fact, they meet the definition of Olympic standards. And in that respect, it is true that the Baltimore-Washington area has experienced, in the last five or six years, the construction of as many or more new venues than anybody else."

Those venues range from PSINet Stadium in Baltimore to the MCI Center in Washington to the Comcast Center in College Park, set to open in 2002. The facilities that definitely would need to be constructed are an arena in Baltimore, a cycling velodrome (possibly in Baltimore) and a swimming and diving natatorium in northern Virginia.

The most vexing construction issue would be an Olympic Stadium for track and field and possibly the opening and closing ceremonies. Neither PSINet Stadium nor Jack Kent Cooke Stadium could fit a track-and-field oval on its playing surface. A renovation and expansion of Washington's RFK Stadium would be a possibility; the Olympic stadium in Sydney will seat 110,000.

How hard would Maryland taxpayers be hit? Well, they've already paid more than $500 million for the two stadiums at Camden Yards, and likely will commit another $100 million for the Comcast Center. The Olympic coalition almost certainly would contribute to the cost of the new Baltimore Arena.

The first challenge, of course, is landing the Games -- Cincinnati, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Tampa-Orlando all are expected to submit bids to the United States Olympic Committee by Dec. 15. The USOC then will choose one candidate to submit to the IOC in 2002, and the IOC will make its decision in 2005.

"I honestly believe that we are very much the [U.S.] leader," said John Moag, the former head of the Maryland Stadium Authority and a Baltimore member of the Olympic coalition. "We're the leader in terms of our organization. We're the leader in terms of the quality of process that we're putting together. And we're the leader in the assets we're bringing to the table."

Cincinnati's bid is expected to include Louisville, Columbus and Indianapolis, and even New York's bid would contain an element of sprawl. The city likely would construct a new domed Olympic stadium on the west side of Manhattan, but also use Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the Meadowlands sports complex in New Jersey and venues on Long Island.

The Atlanta Games seemed more contained, but Payne said appearances were misleading. Several venues were within walking distance of Centennial Olympic Park, the central gathering place for spectators. But Payne said that only 30 to 40 percent of the events took place inside the Atlanta Olympic Ring.

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