Los Angeles was first out of the blocks in the bidding to host the 2016 Olympic Games, but its campaign and those of other American cities is on hold.
The United States Olympic Committee, headed by the chief architect of the 1984 L.A. Games, Peter Ueberroth, had planned to meet this month with civic and private-sector leaders from L.A. and other cities Chicago, San Francisco and Houston that had expressed preliminary interest in hosting the Games. But those meetings have now been postponed until after the Winter Olympics, which close on Feb. 26. In addition, a decision by the USOC on which city, if any, to put forth as a host has been pushed back as well.
"I don't know that there is a timeline for that decision," said Anita De Frantz, longtime member of the USOC and a former Olympian. De Frantz also heads the Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, a non-profit group that supports the development of local athletic programs. "The idea is to look at what the bid process is and determine whether it's a good time for a U.S. city to bid at all."
USOC officials have considered sidelining a 2016 bid in the wake of New York's failed attempt to land the 2012 Summer Olympics and mixed signals from International Olympic Committee officials.
If there is to be a bid from an American city, it must be selected by mid-2007 in order to be considered by the IOC, which will determine the host city for the 2016 Games in 2009. After Los Angeles announced its intent to bid on the 2016 Games in September, the USOC told other interested cities to refrain from announcing bid intentions until the USOC makes a decision on whether it will put forth an American bid at all.
The IOC has adopted very detailed requirements for the bid process, including one that says the host country's government must guarantee financial backing in case the host city's staging of the Games goes into the red. A blanket guarantee from the federal government is out of the question in the United States, given the potential liability. Greece, for example, is swimming in some $10 billion of red ink from its staging of the 2004 Olympics in Athens, although that event was unusually expensive because Greece had to undergo massive construction.
Ueberroth has said that unless an American city can forge a partnership between city, state and federal officials, there is no sense in even attempting to host an Olympics.
"We would only bid on the basis that these games come at no cost to the taxpayers, and we can and will guarantee that," said Barry Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, the organization behind Los Angeles' bid.
When USOC officials do meet with representatives from the potential host cities, the atmosphere will be different this time, with a more cautionary tone.
"These are going to be candid meetings; we want to present all the pros and cons," said USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel, "to make sure that the dollars spent in pursuit of an Olympic bid are spent wisely and responsibly." New York spent $35 million on its failed bid for the 2012 Games.
Still, it's clear there is plenty of momentum in L.A. to press forward on a hosting bid, even with the Games expected to cost around $2 billion.
The 1984 L.A. Games not only operated in the black, but finished with a surplus. The L.A. Olympic Committee spent just $52 million in taxpayer dollars, the bulk on state and municipal services, including security, health inspections and immigration checks. The Games brought in a whopping $230 million after costs, and the bounty, dispersed primarily to youth athletic foundations, continues to pay dividends.
What makes L.A. different, local organizers say, is that it has the city infrastructure and existing venues like the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and Staples Center, which make building expensive sites unnecessary. Add in the huge population base to buy up tickets and generate revenue, and the map to profitability is clear, albeit not assured.
The Games could bring significant tourism revenues for the region, with estimates ranging from hundreds of millions to billions of dollars. The bid has garnered unanimous support so far, including the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Pasadena city councils and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
Involving the city's business community will be crucial, said David Simon, president of the Los Angeles Sports Council. Most funding for an L.A. bid would come from major corporate institutions in the area, including investment banks, law firms, and other large local companies.
"We'll see a lot from those companies that have big marketing budgets and discretionary funds," Simon said.
David Carter, executive director of USC's Sports Business Institute, said he believed a bid would attract widespread public and private-sector support.
"Generally the objections that could be voiced are over the use of public funds and the need to construct new venues," Carter said.
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