Imagine an August day 11 years from now in metropolitan Washington. Basketball is being played at Comcast Center in College Park, while simultaneously a soccer game is ongoing at FedEx Field in Landover. Volleyball is in full swing at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, and rowers are skimming past Georgetown along the Potomac. At each venue, five-ringed banners fly high.
Now imagine what Metro and the roads around D.C. might look like that day.
From the glory to the guts, there's plenty to be sorted out as the Washington area takes another swing at landing its first Olympic Games. But the ball is now officially rolling.
DC 2024, a newly formed exploratory committee hoping to bring the world's largest sporting event to D.C., Maryland and Virginia, announced its intentions Tuesday with a press release, website and social media accounts. Still to come: most of the details, plus millions of dollars just to convince the U.S. Olympic Committee to nominate D.C.'s bid over other domestic efforts, and further billions should the International Olympic Committee vote — in September 2017 — to award the Games to Washington.
It's breathtaking to contemplate the hurdles that must be cleared just to get to that point, which of course would only be the preamble to seven more years of preparation for the event itself, but the man behind the bid believes it's a natural step for the region to take.
"The question became, 'Why not?'" said Bob Sweeney, president of the DC 2024 effort. "We are the only major world capital to not have hosted an Olympic Games. I think it's our turn to shine, I think it's our turn to put our best foot forward."
Sweeney also heads the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, which brought the 2009 NCAA hockey Frozen Four to Verizon Center and the 2011 Army-Navy football game to FedEx Field and landed the Olympic-style 2015 World Police & Fire Games for Fairfax County.
He said he's had preliminary conversations with area leaders in politics, business and sports about a potential bid, and the public response among heavy hitters to Tuesday's announcement was mostly positive.
Washington Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis posted a link to the DC 2024 website on his "Ted's Take" blog, adding: "This is an important effort. ... I intend to be very supportive of this effort in every way possible. Our community is situated well to be great hosts to the Olympic Games." The Capitals' official Twitter account later promoted the effort to its more than 180,000 followers.
The Washington Redskins released a statement from owner Daniel Snyder pledging the organization's backing.
"We look forward to assisting the Washington Olympic Committee in presenting the nation's capital and fabulous surrounding region to the Olympic sporting world," read Snyder's statement. "We are fortunate to have most of the venues needed in an internationally recognized city that is accustomed to staging high-profile events."
Snyder's latter two points are the bedrock of a potential Washington area bid. The area already is well-versed in the logistics of hosting big events, from sports to inaugurations; the security infrastructure runs deep; and four major airports already are in place from Baltimore to Richmond.
Sweeney envisions venues stretching in both directions along the I-95 corridor, encompassing the professional sports stadiums and arenas in greater D.C. and Baltimore plus facilities at the numerous universities and colleges along the way. New venues would still be needed, of course — most notably the centerpiece Olympic stadium to host track and field and the opening and closing ceremonies. At 27 years old in 2024, FedEx Field wouldn't fit the bill for those duties.
That's where the dollars begin to add up quickly, along with the various transportation upgrades and security needs. And that figures to be the biggest stumbling block to this or any bid for the Games.
"I don't think it's a question of whether we can handle it or not, but I think it's a question of whether it's the best thing that we should handle at this point," D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said Tuesday. "There's a lot of work involved in that. You look at what went into Beijing, what went into London, those nations really, you know, devoted a lot of their resources to make that happen.
"If we got serious about it, we'd have to really weigh what is it that we are going to do with the Olympics that we won't do otherwise in the city."
Leaders of other jurisdictions would have to weigh similar dilemmas. The DC 2024 plan to incorporate Maryland and Virginia along with the District would spread the costs around, but would also add layers of bureaucratic approval for anything involving public funding.
Sweeney hasn't begun to project the big-picture costs of a potential winning bid, but his goal for DC 2024 is to raise $3 million-$5 million from private donors over the next two years just to make the cut as the U.S. candidate. Other domestic cities already exploring 2024 bids include two-time Summer Games host Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Tulsa, Okla.
The last two U.S. cities put forth as potential hosts — New York for the 2012 Games and Chicago for 2016 — have shown no indications of getting back in the Olympic ring. The USOC did not bid to host the 2020 Games, which will be awarded next weekend to Tokyo, Madrid or Istanbul.
By 2024, it will have been nearly 30 years since the Atlanta Olympics and more than 20 years since the Salt Lake City Winter Games, leaving the U.S. in prime position for another hosting slot. But when it comes to the IOC and the selection process, it's anyone's guess what might happen.
It has been 11 years since a joint Washington-Baltimore bid fell short of even U.S. finalist status for the 2012 Games, but plenty has changed in the area since then with the opening of a new D.C. convention center and Nationals Park, a proposed D.C. United stadium and pending Silver Line Metro service to Dulles Airport.
Sweeney hopes those improvements and the cachet of the backdrop Washington provides will be enough to put the area over the top this time, but he's also realistic about the challenges that lie ahead.
"There are priorities that are much more important than the Olympic Games, and those conversations need to all be tempered and prioritized as we go down this pathway," Sweeney said. "That's why we've actually formed this exploratory committee, is to actually create that space for that dialogue and have those conversations. ... This is an important conversation to have and we don't know all the answers."
— Andrea Noble contributed
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