- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Somebody in Greece finally has come to his senses.
The mayor of Paleo Faliron, an Athens suburb, is calling for a referendum on some of the boondoggle projects to be built before the start of the 2004 Summer Olympics. "We are examining how we can have a referendum," said Mayor Dimitris Kapsanis.
When will somebody in Washington come to his senses? Is there anyone out there not blinded by Olympic greed? Is there anyone who will step up and say that this notion of playing host to the 2012 Summer Olympics in the Washington-Baltimore region officially the "Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition" is a bad idea for most of the people who will have to live with the promises made and the money spent?
Who will step up and say, before this goes too far, that we should let the people of Washington decide if they want the 2012 Olympics?
Despite the seeming success of these 2002 Winter Olympics here in Salt Lake City, the Games still are in danger of collapsing under their own weight. The cost of these Games one-third the size of the Summer Olympics is nearly $2billion. No matter what kind of promises are made, no one can actually believe that Salt Lake City will get a worthy return on that investment.
District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, here in Salt Lake City to observe the Games, said he was "a little concerned" about the rising costs. "But these Games are still a big money-maker for a locality, there is no question about it," Williams said. "The positive impact on the hospitality industry in Washington, Baltimore, Maryland and Virginia would be fabulous."
Not everyone shares the view that the Games are a money-maker not even Mitt Romney, the head of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Romney wonders whether the Games are really worth the cost. "It's a fair question for people to ask: 'Is it worth it or not?'" Romney told reporters last month. "My own position is, the Games make sense not as a money-making enterprise but as a statement for peace."
Of course, they had to spend more than $300million on security here to make that statement for peace.
If this statement for peace costs that much for a Winter Olympics staged in 2002 in the middle of nowhere, what will it cost for security in the Washington-Baltimore area 10 years from now for the much larger Summer Games? How about $1billion?
As far as the "positive impact on the hospitality industry," here's how the hospitality industry here is faring: Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson made a public plea yesterday for residents to leave their homes and come downtown to spend money in shops and restaurants that are empty and losing money.
Not all restaurants are losing money. Some within Olympic Park are doing quite well, doubling and tripling their prices fleecing not only visitors, but locals as well. They don't give you a special green card when you play host to the Olympics that says, hey, I live here, I'm immune to the Olympic rip-off.
Then again, high prices are not the only benefit Salt Lake City residents are reaping from the Olympics. Downtown workers are being forced by their employers to report to work several hours early every morning to avoid the morning Olympic traffic rush. Others have simply taken vacation time.
That's another dirty little secret they don't tell you when they sing the praises of playing host to the Olympics more people leave town than come in.
Another so-called benefit of the Olympics are all the new public works projects and infrastructure that communities build to play host to the Games.
What are we, chopped liver? How did we get all of the stuff that is here now? Washington, as the mayor likes to say, is the capital of the world. We hardly need the Olympics to put us on the map or to get things done. If by 2012, we still need the Summer Olympics to help us recover from the September 11 terrorist attacks, then we should just pull up all the signs right now and declare ourselves Buffalo.
Take a look at the aftermath of the Sydney Games: The government lost more than $100million, and a number of businesses that were counting on promises of gold instead were left in financial straits.
The $400million stadium built there is rarely used, and the government has been asked for more than $10million to help with operating costs, according to an Associated Press report.
And let's look forward to Athens, where the excessive cost of playing host to the Olympics may finally reach the point of destruction for the Games. The International Olympic Committee has criticized Athens officials for not being prepared for those Games, but a government official there in charge of the Olympics returned from a trip to Salt Lake City and told the IOC to stuff it, that Greece was not obliged to build roads or anything else to please the IOC.
It may be too late for Athens, but it's not too late for Washington. We are one of four finalists, along with New York, Houston and San Francisco, to be named the U.S. Olympic Committee's candidate to play host to the 2012 Games. That decision will be made in November. A decision by the IOC won't come until 2005, and any American site, at this point, would be a long shot. Toronto or a European city such as Paris or London are considered favorites.
But let's stop the charade before it gets that far. Let's not leave it up to government officials and business leaders who are seeking to create a legacy for themselves. This is too important to leave in the hands of the decision-makers. Let's let the people decide.

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