Sloc and the City: Salt Lake's Olympic Legacy Cultural Centre

Article excerpt

"It's SLOC's legacy. It's SLOC's money and SLOC's gift."

--Caroline Shaw, Salt Lake Organizing Committee

On 24 February 2002, a blazing cacophony of fireworks concluded the Closing Ceremony of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. (1) Within a matter of days the athletes, officials, media personnel and visitors were gone. For seventeen days Salt Lake welcomed the world; what, now, was left after the world departed? That is the eternal question confronting Olympic host cities. (2)

While it is the Games themselves that first attract and then sustain our attention, the aftermath-the legacies--reveal much about the planning and preparation for the Games, the communities that host them, and the Olympic organizers' commitment to historical memory. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) understood that it was indefensible, unconscionable really, to expend massive amounts of time, energy and, especially, money simply to host two weeks of athletic frolic on snow and ice while fundamental human needs--housing, education, social services, health care--were chronically underfunded. Hosting the Games must provide the community with a residual pay-off of lasting value.

The 2002 Games left residents of greater Salt Lake City with a surfeit of tangible legacies. Some were directly related to the Olympics--the sport venues used by elite athletes for training and competition as well as by the public for recreation, iconic memorabilia such as the ceremonial cauldron in which the Olympic flame burned during the Games and the innovative Hoberman Arch that curtained the stage where medals were awarded, and historical documentation (videos, photographs, manuscripts). Others were community enhancements such as expanded and improved transportation infrastructure that included highway renovation and a new light rail system, cultural artifacts ranging from statuary to artwork, and new housing for students and low-income families. Perhaps most important were the intangible legacies--exciting memories of the Games (forget the bid and skating scandals and doping incidents), the civic pride of being in the spotlight of world media, and, especially, the psychic gratification of having hosted a preeminently successful Olympics.

At Games' end Salt Lake's paramount legacy objective was yet to be realized: an enduring memorial that would in tangible and intangible ways immortalize the glories of the Games and the host city's unique place in Olympic history. Chief among the numerous ideas for perpetuating memories of Salt Lake 2002 was creating a "living legacy," a park that would serve both as green space for public gatherings and a memorial sanctuary replete with Olympic icons. This paper is a case study of the obstacles and opportunities one Olympic host city, Salt Lake City, faced in creating a legacy memorial park. (3)

The inspiration for Salt Lake's memorial park was Atlanta's Centennial Park, appropriately named in commemoration of the first modern Olympics in 1 896. During the 1996 Games the twenty-one acre park, constructed in a previously run-down section of downtown Atlanta, served largely as a commercial pavilion, but afterwards became a "people's park" featuring landscaped open space as well as an amphitheater, a skating rink, an interactive fountain, and sundry Olympic tributes. Atlanta organizers envisioned the park as the Games' enduring legacy, an attractive gathering place that would also rejuvenate a largely abandoned, crime-ridden urban area by stimulating entertainment and commercial development. (4) Salt Lake City mayor Deedee Corradini had the same idea. After returning from the Atlanta Games, she enthusiastically promoted creating a twenty-acre legacy park on the western edge of downtown, an idea eagerly embraced by SLOC leaders. (5)

The Gateway Olympic Legacy Plaza

The infamous Olympic bid scandal that broke in December 1998 dashed Salt Lake's dreams of a memorial park. …