Going for the gold

If Dallas taxpayers think they will get a free ride as the city pursues the Olympics, they might want to think again

Jere Longman, who covers the Olympics for The New York Times, says it may not be any American city's turn in 2012. "If Toronto gets the 2008 Olympics," Longman says, "it's unlikely another North American city will get it in 2012. China will bid, and they will be in line for one."

There are other things American cities have going for them, no matter what the rotation. "The U.S. is about the only country that can afford the Olympics," Longman says, "except for totalitarian countries."

But if the Olympics were to come to North America in 2012, and if they were to come to Texas, Longman says, people have the impression Houston has the more serious bid.

"They've been in it longer, and they're much more aggressive."
John Williams, who covers the Olympics for the Houston Chronicle, thinks the Houston bid may not be as strong as it appears.

"The mayor and the county judge are pushing it," Williams says, "but the business community is very tepid. These companies are still fighting their way back from the oil bust. They're doing well now, but they feel like they have better things to do with their time in the years ahead than pour everything into the Olympics."

There are lots of other public concerns that the mayor and his handlers at the Dallas Citizens Council are glossing over in their haste for Olympic glory:

Dallas is beginning to have a near glut of new stadiums and arenas, but the one thing it does not have is a stadium big enough for the opening and closing Olympic ceremonies, to say nothing of the 400-meter track that must fit onto its field. Kirk surprised people last week by announcing a sudden freeze on plans to rebuild and dome the Cotton Bowl. Clearly the Olympics boosters have their eyes on the Cotton Bowl as a possible site for the main Olympics venue.

That means the centerpiece of current plans to rebuild the Cotton Bowl--its dome--is in trouble. There is serious doubt the IOC would allow track and field events to be held indoors for the first time in history.

"Would that mean that all of the world records would be affected?" Longman asked. "That would be an interesting issue."

Part of the pitch for the Olympics will be that Dallas will get even more new sports venues out of it. But there is a serious question of just how many more new stadiums supported by luxury corporate suites Dallas could support after the Olympics are over.

Dallas has already been identified as one of nine U.S. markets, including Detroit and Tampa-St. Petersburg, with more sports suites available than there are takers. What that means, according to financial analysts, is that the values of all of the stadiums in town are already decreased. If the stadiums depend on the suites for profit, and if they can't rent what they've got, they're worth less. So why build more?

There is also the question of what would become of the Cotton Bowl after the Olympics if it were to be the main Olympic venue.

Moran, spokesman for the U.S. committee, says the IOC was not at all pleased when Atlanta turned around after the games and gave away its new stadium to the football team. He hints the U.S. committee probably won't choose a city that isn't willing to dedicate its stadium to ongoing Olympic purposes after the games, as a training center or site for other sub-Olympic games.

"One of the principal criteria in choosing the American candidate city," Moran says, "will be legacy. What are you leaving the Olympic movement?"

Another basic question the mayor and the Citizens Council and even the Morning News might want to share at some point with the public is the very troubling issue of who will make money on the next Olympics--the host city or the IOC?

Professor Mark S. Rosentraub of Indiana University, author of Major League Losers: The Real Costs of Sports and Who's Paying for It, says host cities of the future will have a much tougher deal to cut for themselves. If Dallas has to shell out serious money in construction for new venues and the reworking of existing venues, Rosentraub says, Dallas could have a hard time getting out of the Olympics in the black.

"If a city cannot capture the advertising income [corporate sponsorships]," Rosentraub says, "it is very hard to earn enough dollars to repay oneself.

"The issue turns on the division of dollars between the host city and the IOC. If one can do as well as Atlanta--'never again' is the IOC's chant--then the deal works. If the IOC takes the dollars, it could be real hard for Dallas to win, given what you are outlining in new construction costs."

Then again, maybe the mayor and the Morning News and the Olympics boosters are right: Perhaps it is better for the public not to trouble its pretty head with these matters.

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