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    Today, Florida tries for Games

    As they submit the bid, area supporters say they can bring the 2012 Olympics to the region.

    [Times photo: Ken Helle]
    Jose Rodriguez, managing director of Florida 2012, discusses the stadium that would be built for the Olympics during a news conference last month.

    By WAYNE WASHINGTON

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


    TAMPA -- The Olympics in Central Florida?

    The Run for the Torch:
    A city-by-city comparison

    It seems absurd that the world's largest sporting event could be held in a region where the major roadways turn into parking lots at rush hour. It seems laughable that Tampa, known to most of the world, if at all, for being close to Walt Disney World, could take its place next to London, Sydney, Barcelona and Paris as host to an Olympiad.

    Yet Florida 2012, the local group trying to bring the Games to Tampa, is confident it has prepared a bid that stacks up against any other city.

    It calls for the games to be held in late June, when the average high temperature in the area is just under 87 degrees. Hot, but no hotter than some of the other American bid cities, and no hotter than Atlanta, which hosted the Games in 1996.

    Today is the deadline for American cities to present bids to the United States Olympic Committee. Florida 2012 officials have traveled to Colorado Springs, Colo., to submit the bid, joining seven other American cities and regions in the hunt for the Summer Games in 2012.

    Predictably, they are brimming with optimism.

    "When we first started, people would have ranked us in the bottom tier," said Jose Rodriguez, Florida 2012's managing director. "I don't believe that's the case anymore. People are beginning to see that we may be able to win this after all."

    In two years, the USOC will select the American candidate to represent the country in the international competition to host the Games. The International Olympic Committee will make the final choice in 2005.

    What's at stake is international prestige, not to mention the billions of dollars to improve transportation and build facilities.

    Atlanta got $2-billion in private and public money for venue construction and to improve roads and public transportation. The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia reported this week that Sydney's Olympic committee has an operating profit of about $193-million from the 2000 Games.

    From the moment they formed the committee in 1997, Tampa's Olympic boosters have worked to convince others of the financial benefits of a successful bid. Businesses across the state have bought into Florida 2012's dream, helping the group raise $9.5-million in cash and in-kind contributions. The mayors of each big city in Florida have pledged their support.

    Florida 2012's bid stretches across the state. Soccer would be played in Jacksonville and Miami. A reservoir in eastern Hillsborough County would be turned into a rowing, kayaking and canoeing facility. Diving events would be held in St. Petersburg, and decaying public housing in Tampa would be razed and turned into a stadium and village for the athletes.

    Florida 2012 officials have said public money won't be used to host the Games, but will be used for infrastructure and facility construction deemed to have a lasting public benefit after the Games.

    Whether Tampa or any other American city actually gets the Games remains a long shot.

    Paris; Istanbul, Turkey; Johannesburg, South Africa; London; and Tel Aviv, Israel, have all been mentioned as likely candidates to host the 2012 Games.

    In addition, Beijing and Toronto are the favorites to host the 2008 Games. If Beijing gets them and Toronto resubmits its bid for 2012, it would be a formidable competitor. If Toronto wins in 2008, the Olympics would not be awarded to another North American city four years later.

    "Toronto is going to be there whether we worry about it or not," said Florida 2012's Rodriguez. "At this point in time, our No. 1 concern is, how do we become the U.S. candidate city?"

    As Tampa continues to round up support for its bid, two things are clear. First, Florida 2012's bid presents numerous questions and problems. Second, so do the bids of each of the other cities.

    Cincinnati must convince the USOC that it's more than just the third-largest city in a farming and industrial state. Nick Vehr, president of Cincinnati 2012, said Cincinnati has more than enough stature and size to accommodate the games.

    "I have never believed that biggest is best when it comes to the Olympics," Vehr said. "What's most important is the commitment of the community."

    Riverfront restoration is a major aspect of Cincinnati's plan. The bid committee there has proposed building a stadium along the Ohio River that would be scaled down for use as a community stadium.

    Cincinnati has just opened a new football stadium for its professional football team, the Bengals, and is building another for the baseball team, the Reds.

    Do residents want another stadium? "That's a real concern if it's retained as a massive stadium," Vehr said.

    For all of the corporate firepower based in San Francisco, its bid committee members operate out of a 400-square-foot office in Palo Alto with only five paid staffers. The Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee, the regional group handling the bid, is hoping someone donates rental space.

    Helen Mendel, the San Francisco group's director of marketing, said the small staff and office don't reflect a lack of community interest. Mendel did acknowledge that getting, and keeping, the attention of some local business leaders isn't easy.

    "It's kind of hard to talk about 2012 when you're dealing with people on Internet time," Mendel said.

    Los Angeles is using existing facilities to keep its construction budget below $100-million, a fraction of the spending other cities are proposing. Yet will international Olympic officials want to bring the Games to the same city two times in 30 years?

    "It's a legitimate issue," said David Simon, president of LA2012.

    The 1984 Olympics were a success, and the current bid seeks to build off that success. The memories of 1984 will help the current bid, Simon said. Los Angeles knows how to handle large sports events, has hosted a successful Olympics and is making its 12th bid for the Games.

    "There's a tradition," Simon said.

    Houston's bid tosses tradition out the window. Its plan calls for the renovation of the Astrodome and the building of another stadium for a professional football team, the Texans. Opening and closing ceremonies would be held in both facilities, which will have a combined capacity of 140,000.

    "I think that's going to be well-received," said Susan Bandy, executive director of Houston 2012. "We can bring people in at various price levels."

    Holding track and field in the Astrodome would keep athletes from scorching in Houston's boiling summer weather.

    Athletes participating in a Dallas Olympics would get no such reprieve. They'd perform in a new Cotton Bowl, built next to the current stadium. Dallas' bid includes $8-billion to $10-billion in North Texas transportation improvements and a recently passed expansion in borrowing capacity for the city's rail system.

    That push could prove futile if San Antonio, Texas, is successful in landing the Pan Am Games in 2007. USOC officials, trying to pick the strongest competitor for 2012, might fret that their IOC counterparts will want to give another region a chance to host an international sporting event.

    Richard Greene, president and chief executive officer of Dallas 2012, said success for San Antonio doesn't necessarily rule out a winning bid from another Texas city.

    "One of the things the International Olympic Committee likes is experience. If San Antonio puts on a successful Pan Am Games, that's going to be bragging rights for whatever city in Texas hosts the games," Greene said.

    Bragging rights are an issue for New York's bid, with New Jersey and New York wanting the same thing, only they don't both want the Olympics. They want the New York Jets, and the tug of war over the team could kill New York's bid.

    The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has rescinded its support for New York's bid for the Games because the city wants to build a stadium for the New York Jets. Giants Stadium in New Jersey is the current home of the team.

    NYC2012 has proposed holding several events in New Jersey, and Kathleen Lobb, communications director for the bid committee, said the sports authority's opposition won't change that.

    "It's regrettable," Lobb said, "but it has no impact on New York's ability to host the games."

    NYC2012 would like to have a new stadium built on Manhattan's West Side that would also be home to the Jets. New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, meanwhile, wants a new home for his team in Manhattan.

    Finally, a recent poll shows that New Yorkers like the idea of pursuing an Olympic bid but do not favor building a new stadium.

    Olympic boosters in Washington and Baltimore were initially planning to pursue separate bids but combined them after prodding from the area's newspapers.

    Olympic boosters in the Washington area must work to please the leaders of the District of Columbia and Baltimore. Dan Knise, president of Washington/Baltimore 2012, said he thinks that can be accomplished.

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