Md. component keeps Olympic bid in running

The Race for 2012: Washington-Baltimore

August 23, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The United States Olympic Committee will pick two finalists next week to be the U.S. candidate for host city of the 2012 Summer Games. Today, The Sun examines the bid by Washington-Baltimore. San Francisco, New York and Houston also are competing.

Picture tens of thousands of people crowding into the Inner Harbor day after day for more than two weeks, spending freely in the city's hotels, restaurants and attractions.

Then there's the international attention: 5 billion television viewers around the world tuning in to see Baltimore's skyline, its neighborhoods and the University of Maryland, College Park.

These are the images that civic, business and political leaders envision as they work to bring the Summer Olympic Games to the Washington-Baltimore region in 2012.

"I see us being elevated to the stature of a world-class city with flags of every country waving, every language on the planet being spoken, and everyone has a smile on their face, including the vendors," said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and chief executive of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional economic development agency. "We'd get exposure on TV that not even the richest company could afford to buy."

"So many of the people who come to the Olympics as observers, sponsors and participants are decision makers," added Morfessis, who also is a member of the board of directors for the local bid. "Some of them have direct influence on where companies locate. There would be a direct benefit on the long-term economic development of the greater Baltimore region."

Landing the Games would involve capital costs of about $610 million, organizers say.

Optimism has been growing since the field was narrowed to four cities in October. Eliminated were Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles and Tampa, Fla.

"We made the Olympic team last October," said Dan Knise, president and chief executive of the coalition behind the regional bid. "Now we have to win the medal."

For at least one person who has believed in the region all along, advancing to the finals seems almost assured.

"I'll be shocked if we don't make this cut," said John A. Moag Jr., chief executive of Moag & Co., a sports investment banking firm, who was one of the first to lobby for the Games. "The area has done a magnificent job of putting together a package."

The capital status of Washington and its popularity as a travel destination are widely viewed as the region's greatest strengths. But the flip side is that the city's status as the seat of the U.S. government could result in an international backlash.

From the start, Maryland's role in the Games has been essential. A key is the state's wealth of existing modern sports facilities, said Paul G. Levy, a local attorney who dreamed up the idea of the Baltimore region's chasing the Games, enlisted a fellow attorney, Keith Rosenberg, to help and then called Moag, who at the time was Maryland Stadium Authority director.

"The Maryland-Baltimore part of the bid, from the very first time we sat around a table and thought this through, was critical," Levy said. "Without the Maryland-Baltimore component, the bid itself could not have gone through."

Pledge of new arena

Today, the bid calls for Baltimore to play host to soccer at Ravens stadium; baseball at Oriole Park at Camden Yards; gymnastics at a planned new Baltimore arena; table tennis at the Baltimore Convention Center; and cycling and the triathlon in the Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods. Track cycling would take place at a new Baltimore velodrome.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has promised a new Baltimore arena if the region's bid is successful. The arena would require 18,000 seats and would be financed by a public-private partnership, according to local organizers. A proposed velodrome at the site of the former Memorial Stadium in Baltimore would have 5,500 seats.

A large part of the $610 million earmarked for capital costs would pay for an Olympic Sports Complex near the Anacostia waterfront, including construction of a stadium to replace Robert F. Kennedy Stadium.

About $230 million would pay for capital improvements in Maryland. Those would include the new arena and velodrome, as well as a connector that would link the University of Maryland to Interstate 95, and cleanup of the Inner Harbor.

Annapolis would play host to sailing, and mountain biking would be held at Patapsco Valley State Park. Among the other events slated for Maryland would be field hockey at Homewood Field at the Johns Hopkins University and at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Stadium, volleyball finals at the Comcast Center at College Park and equestrian events at Laurel Park.

The Olympic Village, where the world's greatest amateur athletes would be housed, would be at College Park. As planned, athletes for 23 of the 28 sports would also train there. The Inner Harbor would serve as backdrop for a glitzy, high-tech opening ceremony to be held simultaneously in Washington, either at the Mall or at the proposed Olympic stadium.

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