Washington's Olympic bid moves forward with extent of Maryland role undefined

O'Malley and governor candidates pledge early support to attract 2024 Games

September 04, 2014|By Jeff Barker and Erin Cox, The Baltimore Sun

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank is on the board and Gov. Martin O'Malley offered his preliminary backing, but Maryland's role in a bid to bring the 2024 Summer Olympics to the Washington region remained largely undefined.

The nonprofit Washington 2024 unveiled a website and announced its board Thursday, but Plank was its only Baltimore-area member, and Maryland's participation is only nominally suggested in the newly released promotional material.

Maryland appears to be a secondary partner in this effort, but likely would host multiple events if the bid is successful and be asked to make a significant financial contribution.

Washington 2024's board is mostly composed of Washington-area business and sports officials. The website, DC2024.org, features images of the nation's capital as well as photos of Annapolis and the University of Maryland, College Park — two sites that could be considered to host events.

Terry Hasseltine, director of the Maryland Office of Sports Marketing, said the state "is a significant part of the dialogue. Venues throughout the state are being discussed and assessed and evaluated."

He said Annapolis could be considered for sailing, and Garrett County's whitewater course — which is preparing to host an international championship event later this month — would be a probable venue for whitewater canoe and kayak events. Other potential Maryland sites could include the Camden Yards Sports Complex, the University of Maryland and the Washington Redskins' FedEx Field in Landover.

If Maryland is under-represented on the board and website, Hasseltine said, that may be because of Washington's global cachet.

"Their identity, I think, carries more weight internationally," he said.

The Washington committee includes former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, and Mark D. Lerner, who owns Major League Baseball's Washington Nationals. Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is the vice chairman. Prominent businessman Russ Ramsey is chairman.

Washington 2024 officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Washington 2024 has said in the past that it could not host the Olympics without Maryland's participation. Together, the region — combined with Northern Virginia — claims 129,000 hotel rooms.

"I think there is no way D.C. can manage it if they don't get a buy-in from Maryland," said Dennis Coates, a sports economist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "They're probably going to use facilities at FedEx [Field].

"The problem I would have as the governor is, 'You want us to contribute but what are we getting in return?' When people look at this, it won't be the Maryland Olympics. It will be the Washington Olympics."

Washington is competing with Boston, New York and San Francisco to convince officials with the U.S. Olympic Committee that the city represents the country's best hope of winning the 2024 games.

The national committee is expected to decide on a U.S. site in 2015, and the International Olympic Committee will make the final selection. If a U.S. site is selected, it would be the first time in 28 years that a U.S. city hosted the Summer Olympics. The last was Atlanta in 1996.

O'Malley added his voice Thursday to those of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray in backing the endeavor, which could cost billions if approved.

In a prepared statement, O'Malley touted the Olympics as a means of creating jobs and spurring innovation in Maryland, and he spoke in lofty terms about the potential benefits.

"As one of the greatest sporting events our world has ever known, the Olympics is one of the best diplomatic tools we have to transcend the walls that divide us and provide a spark of hope for the next generation," O'Malley said. "Hosting the Olympics will foster a lasting sports, tourism and cultural legacy for our nation while also highlighting Maryland and the capital region's seamless coordination, strength, diversity and vibrancy on the ultimate global stage."

O'Malley spokeswoman Nina Smith characterized the governor's support as part of the early backing of the concept, and not a commitment on whether the state would help pay for the games.

Hosting the Olympics is costly: Russia spent more than $50 billion to host the Sochi Winter Olympics this year, and recent estimates put the price tag of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro at more than $15 billion.

Staging the Olympics "probably doesn't make sense financially," Coates said. "But if it makes sense anywhere, this is as likely a place as any. I say that because we have lots of stadiums in place and basketball arenas that can be used for gymnastics competitions.

"We also have pretty good roads, a good Metro system and excellent airports. In that regard, we would have lower costs. We wouldn't have to build all those things."

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