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Taxpayers help woo 2012 Games
By WAYNE WASHINGTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 25, 2000
TAMPA -- The mayors of St. Petersburg, Tampa and Orlando have all said money from their city budgets won't go toward bringing the Olympic Games to Tampa.
So far, none has. But that doesn't mean tax money isn't being used.
About $1.3-million in tax money already has been poured into the effort to bring the Games to Tampa in 2012.
The money, most of which has come from publicly funded convention and visitors bureaus, is only a portion of the total raised by Florida 2012, the not-for-profit organization heading the Olympic effort. Florida 2012 announced in March that about $9-million in public and private funds had been given or pledged to pursue the Games.
That support mirrors the increasing enthusiasm public officials throughout the state have for the Olympic bid.
On May 25, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a bill that would have Florida taxpayers guarantee up to $175-million in losses if the Olympics were brought to Tampa. The bill Bush signed, which would have Florida 2012 pay the first $25-million in losses, passed the state House of Representatives and Senate with unanimous votes.
"The location of the 2012 Olympic Games in Tampa would be a tremendous economic boon to the Tampa Bay area and to the entire state of Florida," said state Sen. John McKay, R-Bradenton, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Ed Turanchik, president and chief executive of Florida 2012, feels the same way. That, he said, is why his organization is attempting to obtain financial support from convention and visitors bureaus throughout the state.
"Our board has set a policy of asking for tourist and visitors support," Turanchik said. "If you can't spend tourist and visitors dollars for attracting the Olympics, what can you spend it for?"
The St. Petersburg-Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has pledged $250,000 over two years. The Tampa-Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association has given $103,081.
Convention and visitors bureaus in Orange and Osceola counties have pledged a combined $375,000, and the Florida Sports Foundation has pledged $300,000. Officials in Polk County, and a publicly overseen utilities company in Orlando, have pledged a combined $150,000.
Hillsborough County's Tourist Development Council got the ball rolling by paying the $150,000 non-refundable bid fee required by the United States Olympic Committee.
Despite the public support, Florida 2012 does not believe it is subject to the state's Open Records Law. Its meetings are closed, and its plans, which could reshape parts of Tampa Bay, are kept secret.
"We would like to be as open as we can as soon as we can," Turanchik said.
That's not soon enough for Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt.
"In my opinion, they should be subject to the Sunshine Law," said Platt, who failed in her effort three years ago to limit how Olympic officials lobby tourism officials. "The fact that the public will underwrite the losses, that puts an extra burden on them to operate in the sunshine."
Tampa is one of eight U.S. metropolitan areas bidding for the 2012 Olympics. The bids must be submitted to the USOC by Dec. 15.
In 2002, the USOC will choose which city will serve as America's candidate in the international competition to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee will make the final choice in 2005.
Because of Atlanta's experience when hosting the Olympics four years ago, the IOC now requires government support for any city bidding for the Games, said Mike Moran, a spokesman for the USOC.
Corporations paid for most of Atlanta's bid and covered the costs of building new facilities. That gave those corporations, not Olympic officials, the say in how the facilities would be used after the Games. The signature facility in the 1996 Games, where the track and field events were held, is now the home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
Moran said the IOC rewrote its rules to make sure government has more invested in the Olympics.
"No matter what city we're talking about, they want some backup from government," Moran said.
Across Florida, government leaders are increasingly bullish on Tampa's chances.
McKay said it was easy to round up the votes for the $175-million guarantee. And Turanchik said at least two cities or counties ask to be included in Florida 2012's Olympic plans each week.
"We're clearly more credible than we were a year ago," Turanchik said. "It's clear that we can do this."
It's not clear yet where many Olympic events would be held.
Florida 2012 has proposed holding diving events in a yet-to-be built facility on the waterfront in St. Petersburg. Wrestling would be held at the Times Arena at Bayfront Center. Gymnastics and basketball would be held at Tropicana Field, and the marathon would start in St. Petersburg.
Olympic officials have been shown other possible venues, though Turanchik said Florida 2012 has not decided to include them in its bid. Those venues include Plant City stadium, which would be used for softball; Clearwater Beach, for beach volleyball; the Tampa Bay Bypass Canal, for rowing, canoeing and kayaking; and the Ice Palace, for indoor volleyball.
The biggest piece of Florida 2012's bid, where to build a $200-million-plus Olympic stadium and how to pay for it, has not been decided.
Turanchik said plans are constantly evolving. With only 51/2 months before the bid is due, that doesn't leave much time for public discussion of Florida 2012's stadium plans.
Turanchik has said the public will have plenty of time to sift through the stadium plan. Also, he said, the bid submitted on Dec. 15 isn't ironclad. Changes can be made, he said.
Moran, the USOC spokesman, agreed -- sort of.
"We'd prefer that they don't change," Moran said. "There is room for venues to be changed if there are good reasons. I can't see changes and then more changes."
Would bid changes hurt a city's chances of being selected?
"It wouldn't help," Moran said.
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