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Devil is in details of bid for Olympics

Tonight's celebration by Florida 2012 will be heavy on praise but light on Olympic bid details.

By WAYNE WASHINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 17, 2000


TAMPA -- The bigwigs will gather, in black tie and gowns, at the Marriott Waterside Hotel tonight to celebrate the progress Tampa has made in its quest to host the Summer Olympic Games in 2012.

Officials from Florida 2012, the private group trying to land the Games, will laud the generosity of corporate donors who have pumped nearly $9-million into the group's efforts. And Florida 2012 also will announce what part of summer the Olympics would be held here.

Could they be held in the depths of summer, when Florida is boiling hot? Come to the gala tonight, Florida 2012 officials say, and we'll tell you.

That still leaves far more meaty questions unanswered. How much tax money would be needed? Where would athletes and coaches stay? Where would the giant Olympic stadium be built, and who would use it after the Games are gone?

It will be at least two months before the group begins to make such details public, said Florida 2012 Executive Director Ed Turanchik. The financial details of the bid won't be released until sometime in October, just two months before Florida 2012 must submit a legally binding bid to the United States Olympic Committee.

In 2002, the USOC will choose from among Tampa and seven other cities competing to become the U.S. candidate in the international competition to host the Games. In 2005, the International Olympic Committee makes a final decision.

If Tampa is chosen, it will be legally required to stick to the plans laid out in the bid, which must be submitted by Dec. 15.

This week, two of Tampa's competitors, New York and Washington-Baltimore, released extensive details about their bids, including where some of the major events would be held.

"We had an obligation to let people know so everybody could be shaking their heads in agreement on this," said Dan Knise, chairman of chief executive officer of the Washington-Baltimore Olympic group. "We are a group that is interested in public feedback."

But Turanchik is sticking to a familiar line: Publicizing bid details now puts Tampa at a competitive disadvantage.

Florida 2012 officials also say the governing bodies of the various sports included in the Summer Games must approve each proposed venue.

"We are concerned about saying this venue will be used for that and then the governing body coming and saying that won't work," Turanchik said. "I think we are the only group being that deliberate."

Still, Turanchik offered some general ideas about Florida 2012's plans which, with previous comments he and other local officials have made, offer a hazy picture of what the group is planning:

Raymond James Stadium has been ruled out as the centerpiece athletic venue. It's too small.

A new stadium for track and field events would be built in Tampa, Turanchik said, reiterating his contention that Tampa will be the center of Olympic activity, not St. Petersburg or Orlando. He also said an Olympic stadium could not be used by a baseball team after the Games are gone because the track would have to be removed. The USOC wants the track to stay as a legacy of the Games.

The stadium would not be built at the University of South Florida. University officials say they have not been involved in discussions regarding the construction of a stadium near the school, and Turanchik is known for his emphasis on urban renewal and design. That doesn't preclude USF from using the stadium later. The Bulls now play at Raymond James Stadium. An Olympic stadium must seat at least 75,000 but could be reduced later.

Central Park Village public housing complex could be demolished and new buildingsconstructed to house the Olympic village for athletes and coaches. The buildings could later be used for low-income housing. "I have heard that," said Mayor Dick Greco. "That has some merit to it." Jerome Ryans, executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority, said he has not been involved in Olympic planning but supports the bid and welcomes the chance to rebuild of some of THA's crumbling housing.

The Channel District is unworkable as a site for the stadium. Greco has pushed hard to revitalize the area, but said numerous owners and high real estate prices make it problematic as a stadium site. "I'm not saying it can't happen," Greco said. "I'm saying I can't imagine it."

Rail will not be a main component of the Olympic bid, though it could be used to connect Florida cities with Olympic venues. Plans to expand highways in the Tampa Bay area will be noted in the bid.

Throughout the bidding process, Florida 2012 officials have said no city or state money will be required to host the Games. State support, however, is required by the USOC. State Sen. Jim Horne, R-Orange Park, has introduced a bill that would protect the USOC and the IOC from financial loss should the Games be held in Tampa. That would also commit the state to financially support the Games.

Joe Chillura, the former Hillsborough County commissioner who helped lead the successful effort to finance the construction of Raymond James Stadium, said he's not convinced local tax money won't be needed for the Olympics.

"The most famous last words is, "There will be no public money used,' " he said. "That's like saying, "I did not sleep with that woman . . ..' "

- Wayne Washington can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or washington@sptimes.com.

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