Booming Salt Lake City Gears Up for 2002 Winter Olympics

By Verne Kopytoff N. Y. Times News Service | THE JOURNAL RECORD, November 14, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Booming Salt Lake City Gears Up for 2002 Winter Olympics


Verne Kopytoff N. Y. Times News Service, THE JOURNAL RECORD


SALT LAKE CITY -- Until a few decades ago, the two dozen or so cities nestled between the flanks of the Wasatch Mountains and shore of the Great Salt Lake subsisted heavily on farming and the area's natural bounty of minerals and timber.

Development in Salt Lake City reflected this reliable but mild economy: a sleepy downtown filled with low-rise storefronts -- some built of brick by early Mormon settlers -- and suburbs with more land devoted to pastures than housing tracts.

But now the area finds itself in an unfamiliar position at the center of attention as host of the Winter Olympics in 2002, and preparations for it are accelerating what is already one of the fastest growing local economies in the country. Not since the silver rush in the 1880s that brought saloons and prospectors' cabins to the surrounding mountain towns has this area been so transformed, this time with office towers, bobsled courses, ice rinks, tract homes and business parks. "Our economy is now broader and more stable than it was 30 years ago," said Brian Hatch, deputy mayor of Salt Lake City. "Now we have more service businesses, more tourism, more conventions and more warehousing since we are at a crossroads of the West." While Olympics construction represents only a fraction of the area's 5 percent annual job growth rate over the last few years, it is at the forefront of nearly every local resident's mind. Outsiders who ask about development in the state typically get a gloating smile followed by a recitation of the dozen or so Olympic venues that have been built or are in various stages of construction and planning. Though the area is rich in ski resorts, about half of the sports facilities and infrastructure for the games must be built from scratch at a cost of nearly $1 billion, according to Utah's Office of Planning and Budget. So that the cost of construction is not too burdensome on one entity, most development is being financed by partnerships between the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee and government entities and private companies. Among the largest projects is a 10,500-seat arena, financed with $7 million from the Olympic Committee and $46 million from the City of West Valley, where the completed arena is situated. During the games, the venue will accommodate short-track speed-skating races and preliminary ice hockey matches (the finals will be in the Delta Center, home of the Utah Jazz basketball team). Otherwise, it will be used as a concert hall and as a home for the Utah Grizzlies, an International League hockey team that leases the arena for its matches. Salt Lake City also lacked a place to house nearly 3,500 athletes and an adequate location for the opening and closing ceremonies. The Olympic Committee turned to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to expand the school's football stadium from 32,000 seats to 50,000, and to build new student dormitories to serve as an athletes' village during the games. The university will pay about $98 million of the total $110 million it will take to complete the two projects. Part of the construction for the Winter Games began even before Salt Lake City was named as Olympic host. The construction was part of the effort to win designation from the International Olympic Committee, which passed over Utah for the 1998 games in favor of Nagano, Japan. The state built the basics of a $59 million winter sports park with a bobsled course, luge course, Nordic combined tracks, several ski jumps, and a speed-skating oval located off-site, funded by a small increase in the state sales tax that voters approved in 1988. Once the games are over, the Olympic Committee will reimburse Utah for that $59 million, plus $40 million for a maintenance fund. Civic leaders hope that the park and other facilities like the ice rinks will become a training ground for winter sports competitors, much as Colorado Springs, Colo.

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