That other city by a bay

San Francisco has many assets in bid for Olympics

The race for 2012: San Francisco

August 20, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The United States Olympic Committee will pick two cities next week to compete for the right to be the country's proposed host of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Today, The Sun begins an examination of the four finalists, which are Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco, New York and Houston.

Anne Cribbs won a gold medal four decades ago in the 400-meter swimming medley in Rome. Now, she hopes to bring home the gold for San Francisco as it competes for the chance to play host to the Summer Olympic Games in 2012.

"We're very proud of our bid," said Cribbs, president and chief executive of the San Francisco bid. "It's been a real community effort out here. People are excited. There's a lot of buzz in the community."

The buzz has been building for weeks based on smart changes to their venue plan, rave reviews after a visit by a United States Olympic Committee inspection team last month and growing sentiment that New York's proposal is too costly.

Unlike its three competitors, San Francisco offers appealing weather during the summer. It also features picturesque vistas and a low-risk bid that requires minimal construction.

But San Francisco's greatest strength may be its international appeal.

"We're the world's favorite U.S. city in survey after survey," said Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for the San Francisco bid. "It's an international destination that can compete with Paris, Rome, London and Rio de Janeiro. The postcard image of San Francisco coupled with the cutting edge innovation of Silicon Valley is a powerful brand to take internationally."

San Francisco's West Coast location allows it to escape association with the seat of the U.S. government.

"The rest of the world doesn't necessarily love America as much as we do," Winnicker said. "The icons that we have are symbols of American beauty that foster a sense of warmth around the world."

But the bid faces concerns because the city is in California, where Los Angeles has twice held the Games. Another obstacle may be its proximity to Vancouver, British Columbia, considered a front-runner for the 2010 Winter Games.

San Francisco organizers took some tips from the USOC to heart and revamped their bid in April to bring their venues into a tighter circle, enhancing what was a competitive bid. Of the four bids, only Washington-Baltimore's made similar sweeping venue changes.

Like Washington-Baltimore, San Francisco in its bid is relying upon its entire region to provide venues.

Although San Francisco's venues stretch from Monterey to Sacramento - a distance of more than 150 miles - organizers say that 90 percent of the venues are within a half mile, or walking distance, of public transportation.

For the most part, the venues are grouped in clusters that make up what organizers dub "the ring of gold." The main groupings are in San Francisco, Berkeley-Oakland, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Santa Clara and San Jose. Additional events would be held in Sacramento, Monterey and the wine country of Napa Valley.

The far-flung locations were kept because they have world-class venues including the Sacramento area's Lake Natoma, which would play host to rowing, canoeing and kayaking, and Domain Chandon Winery in Napa - an internationally certified mountain biking course.

"The Olympic Games that are successful are the ones that don't have huge construction costs," Winnicker said. "The Los Angeles Games did not require a lot of construction in 1984, and they were the most successful Olympic Games in modern history. We took a page from that."

Eighty percent of San Francisco's proposed venues already exist, requiring about $220 million in capital costs, Cribbs said.

"We'll be delivering a lower-cost Olympic Games that can be a model for the future," said Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for San Francisco 2012. "That really resonated with the USOC. We think we can give the USOC a plan to take internationally that is consistent with the direction that Mr. [Jacques] Rogge wants to take the Olympics."

Rogge, International Olympic Committee president, has consistently talked about keeping the Olympics contained so that the budget does not become so large that only a few cities in the world can play host to the Games.

Among the handful of venues that San Francisco will need to build are an equestrian park, velodrome, tennis center, whitewater course and Olympic village, Cribbs said.

As the USOC voters take a harder look at each of the cities next week, San Francisco may edge out Washington-Baltimore in the all-important category of international appeal, said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management and tourism studies at George Washington University who follows the 2012 bids.

But San Francisco doesn't have the gathering space featured in some of the other bids, she said. "San Francisco is a great city, but the streets are crowded," she said. "They don't have the wide avenues."

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