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Salt Lake City should be in the race to be host for the 1998 Winter Olympics, not for the money, but for the show, Mayor Palmer DePaulis said Friday.

"It's not for the economic development. That will come. . . . What the Olympics is all about is the opportunity for image making," DePaulis told University of Utah students at the Hinkley Institute of Politics.Salt Lake City is among six cities bidding before the U.S. Olympic Committee in June for the Games. "America's choice" must then in 1991 vie before the International Olympic Committee.

Much attention has focused on the economic impact of the Games. But DePaulis said bringing hundreds of athletes, thousands of spectators and millions of TV viewers to Utah will provide the state with a global stage.

"That's a tremendous opportunity and that's the reason we want to hold the Olympics," he said.

Depaulis admitted, however, that the state's "provincial" image in the eyes of the world could be a significant barrier preventing the city from hosting the Games.

That provincial image, though, has been put to rest in the past when, for example, the city wowed 170 mayors in a downtown Salt Lake hotel last June for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, DePaulis said.

But the real encumbrance to overcoming the state's image problems is Utah's own self-image, DePaulis said.

"We're the problem. We're obsessed with our own image," he said, pointing to the city's overreaction to a 1988 Los Angeles Times article describing the city as a "Perry Como kind of place."

Some Utahns take such criticism too seriously and conclude "we're terrible," DePaulis said. "Instead of saying, `What do we really want to be?' and let's spend our energy on that. With the Olympics . . . we present ourselves as we want to be perceived."

DePaulis said the Los Angeles Times article is perhaps a reflection on progress Salt Lake City has made in comparison with other cities.

"If the L.A. Times is suddenly worried about our image, maybe there's a reason . . . maybe they're a little afraid of what may be happening here."

Utah's liquor laws are typically referred to as examples of Utah phenomena that are perceived poorly by non-Utahns. But liquor consumption is a small issue in the bidding process before the USOC, DePaulis said.

"The athletes aren't going to drink when they're here, or they shouldn't be," he said. "It's not really going to be an issue."

Many of the misconceptions of the Beehive State are a result of people being poorly informed, DePaulis said, recalling a conversation with a first-time visitor at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

"One person said, `I can't believe there are trees here,' " the mayor said, adding Utahn's must "confront" such misperceptions.

Asked if the Utah public, who could vote on the Olympic issue in a referendum next fall, could be sold on the Olympics based on the image benefits and not on the economic benefits or liabilities, DePaulis said he was unsure.

"It's a matter of emphasis," he said. Citizens are still reeling from the last year's tax initiative battle and, although image is important, many are concerned about spending public money.

"There's a mood right now that if we use public money, it must be paid back," he said.