• Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Olympics is a fair bet Ñ but no sure thing

VANCOUVER, B.C. Ñ In the foyer of the Four Seasons Hotel, just minutes after a good-spirited luncheon, David McCann corners one of the administrators of Vancouver's bid to host the Olympic Winter games in 2010 and gives her a short version of the riot act.

McCann, who owns an art gallery, is peeved about the luncheon he has just attended, which focused on the marketing opportunities that would come from hosting the games.

He has just heard about the wonderful results that Delta Air Lines achieved as an official sponsor of the Olympics in 1996, when they were held in Atlanta.

But McCann doesn't have anywhere near the kind of money that Delta Air Lines has, so the point of his message is simple: 'What's in it for me?'

'I don't want this to come down to an economic thing, but there is a point where my company has to get some value out of being associated with the bid process,' says McCann, who has supported the city's bid financially for three years. 'I think they have the answer, but they just haven't come up with anything yet.'

Throughout Vancouver, citizens are debating the same basic question: Is hosting the Olympics worth it?

It's a highly topical question, because Vancouver Ñ a six-hour drive from Portland Ñ is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination in a three-city race with Salzburg, Austria, and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Vancouver's 420-page bid, three years and $34 million in the making, will be submitted to the International Olympic Committee next week. But a Feb. 22 referendum could wipe out the city's bid before the IOC issues its final vote July 2.

Salzburg also has been struggling with how to pay for the games. And it was just four months ago that Bern, Switzerland, dropped out of the running when voters failed to support public financing of the games by a margin of 3-to-1.

'The Olympics are an easy thing to love or hate,' says Steve Podborski, an Olympic alpine skiing medal winner who is the executive director for international relations for the Vancouver Bid Corp. 'Once you dig into it, you can find that it's imperfect.

'But, overall, it does a lot of good.'

Vancouver unites

Vancouver's name has been tossed about as a host city for both the Summer and Winter games for decades, but it's the Winter Games that make the most sense because internationally famous Whistler Resort is just 1 1/2 hours away.

Whistler already has a World Cup downhill course. Competition has been postponed just once in 44 years because there wasn't enough snow in February, when the Winter games are held.

Vancouver already has a site for the opening and closing ceremonies, the BC Place dome, and two arenas for figure skating and hockey: GM Place, home of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, and Pacific Coliseum, home of the WHL's Vancouver Giants.

Vancouver has an international airport that was rated No. 1 in North America in customer satisfaction in one recent survey. It has a large Asian population, and it's close to two major U.S. cities.

And Vancouver was the host city for the 1986 World Expo and the 2001 World Figure Skating Championships, so it's been on the international stage before.

In terms of major construction, Vancouver doesn't need to build much.

And many businesses remember the World Expo and see the value in attracting a large event.

Dale Johnson, who owns The Games People, a small business that sells toys and games, says he's followed the Vancouver bid closely and supports the effort. His business has survived for 25 years Ñ including during the Expo days, when that event's detractors predicted dire consequences.

'People told us the Expo was going to kill small businesses that weren't located directly in the Expo areas, but that didn't happen,' Johnson says. 'I don't know that we did any better or worse financially, but we sure met a lot of people from everywhere.'

Johnson says Vancouver, which has an unemployment rate of about 7 percent, needs an economic boost from something:

'We used to have mining, but that's mostly gone. The fishing industry is down, the lumber industry is down and the movie industry is drying up. We used to be known as Hollywood North. I guess that leaves us with tourism.

'If we're going to be a tourist town, then we'd better get events like the Olympics,' Johnson says, 'because it doesn't get any bigger than the Olympics.'

The reason that Vancouver gets the likely nod over its two remaining competitors is simple logic. The IOC has something of a rotation working to move the games every two years among its three main geographic regions: Europe, North America and Asia, including Australia.

The three Olympics preceding 2010 will be held in Europe and Asia. The IOC is unlikely to put two consecutive games in Asia and unlikely to put three of four in Europe, especially since that would weaken the bid of Rome for 2012. Rome finished second to Athens for the 2004 games.

That places Vancouver as the front-runner.

'It makes sense that North America is in line for 2010, and that's us,' Podborski says. 'We think we're the winning bid.'

Canadians pay, complain

Even though Vancouver wouldn't need to build many new facilities, organizers still expect the 2010 games to cost between $600 million and $800 million for infrastructure improvements and additional venues. Part of the money would be earmarked to support facilities such as the bobsled track in the years after the games.

The planned financing is split evenly between the provincial and federal governments, Podborski says. No special taxes would be created to pay for the games.

The provincial government also would spend more than $100 million to improve the highways leading to Whistler. Improvements to the 'Sea to Sky' highway between Vancouver and Whistler, now just two lanes in some parts, are a key part of the Vancouver bid.

Critics point out that the money would be better spent on providing better health care for citizens, who are anticipating a drop in health care coverage, and ensuring more public housing.

And citizens remember the impact of Expo '86, when many low-income residents were displaced.

Vancouver's new mayor, Larry Campbell, won a November election on a platform that included a public referendum of Vancouver's Olympic bid, even though the referendum is nonbinding on the bid corporation.

Even if the plan for the games wins the referendum, it will have to carry at least 65 percent of the vote to be impressive to IOC members, who probably will only look at the votes against.

There's history behind that Ñ the IOC awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics to Denver only to have the public vote down financing for the games, which ended up in Innsbruck, Austria.

Geoff Meggs, Campbell's executive assistant, says that while Campbell supports the bid, his party, the Coalition of Progressive Electors, has reservations about the games' potential impact.

'Everyone just wants to make sure the games make sense for the city,' Meggs says. 'And that's economically and socially.'

Meggs says one of the strongest arguments for the games is the federal money that would flow into British Columbia, which generally ranks last among the provinces in federal funding.

Podborski says even the town of Whistler didn't support the bid initially, fearing that the influx of thousands of people could do long-term damage to the resort community's environment. The Whistler Municipal Council eventually voted 6-1 to endorse the bid after nearly six hours of public debate.

'We worked with them to find a solution that made sense to everyone,' Podborski says. 'That's only made our bid stronger.'

The games themselves should make money, as they did in Salt Lake City, as a result of revenues from television contracts and official sponsors such as Coca-Cola. The budget for the 2010 games is $1.3 billion, Podborski says.

In Salt Lake City, the games had a budget of $1.5 billion and made a profit of $100 million, much of which is being used to endow the Utah Athletic Fund. The fund promotes winter sports and manages many of the Olympic facilities.

Big companies pay for the games and reap a large portion of the financial rewards by boosting their sales and/or market share for months leading up to and after the competition.

Those large companies, though, don't get involved until the games actually happen.

Portland watches

Portland has been down a similar road in attempting to lure the Olympic flame.

In the 1960s, Portland organized a bid for the '68 Summer Games, which included a proposed Olympic complex at Delta Park. Virtually every influential Oregonian signed Portland's bid book, which was just 34 pages long.

Ultimately, Portland didn't even win the U.S. nomination. Detroit did, but it lost out to Mexico City.

Talk of holding an Olympics in Portland Ñ both the Summer and Winter games have been talked about Ñ has been only sporadic since then.

Drew Mahalic, chief executive officer of the Oregon Sports Authority, says his organization is following the Vancouver bid and has sent a letter of support.

'We see Portland as a supplemental site for the Vancouver games,' Mahalic says. 'People coming from Europe who want to go somewhere else before or after the games, that's where Portland comes in.

'And whatever help we can offer to Vancouver's organizing committee, that's what we're doing.'

Portland, which will host the 2005 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, is likely to be drawn into the regional sphere of the Vancouver games as 2010 approaches. The Salt Lake City games reached out to towns in Wyoming and Idaho, which became satellite sites with their own festivities.

Mahalic says, however, that Oregonians shouldn't expect Portland to bid on an Olympics for decades. 'It's simply too expensive,' he says.

Olympic intrigue

One definitely needs a scorecard to keep track of all the drama that goes into selecting an Olympic city.

Salzburg's bid, for example, is being threatened because Austria doesn't spend a significant amount of money on its military and is waffling on replacing its aging air force. There also are concerns about snowfall in February at Kitzbuhel, where the Olympic downhill events would be held.

South Korea has all kinds of problems because it adjoins North Korea.

And then there's the 2012 Olympics. Many members of the IOC, which has its headquarters in Switzerland, are rumored to want a European city, either Rome or London, to host that Olympics. New York also is in the running for 2012.

There's a new push by the IOC Ñ even IOC President Jack Rogge commented on it last month Ñ to make the Olympics smaller so that a city in Africa or South America could be the host Ñ something that hasn't happened yet.

And there's still fallout from the Salt Lake City games. The Salt Lake City bid won in part because it used gifts to influence voters who were deciding on where to place the 2002 games. Because of that scandal, the 2010 candidate cities cannot contact any of the potential IOC voters.

Go for the gold

McCann, whose Creekhouse Gallery is listed as a 'friend' of the Vancouver bid, says his interest in the Vancouver games goes to the core of the Olympic movement.

He lived in Montreal in 1976, when that town hosted the games and was part of the volunteer effort, marching in the opening and closing ceremonies as a guide for the New Zealand delegation.

McCann says the Olympics are much more than a sporting activity.

'The Olympics are about human excellence,' he says. 'It's about people being able to communicate with each other and get along peacefully.

'That's what I want Vancouver to be like every day.'

Contact Cliff Pfenning at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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