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
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
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
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
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
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'
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
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. …