Salt Lake City has an excellent opportunity to be selected by the International Olympic Committee as host city for the 1998 Winter Olympics. It is a prestigious world event that could bring lasting benefits to the state. The opportunity ought to be seized and supported in the upcoming Nov. 7 referendum on the issue.

This statement of support represents the views of the publisher and the editorial board of the Deseret News but not those of our owners, who remain neutral on the referendum.As to the merits of the referendum, the chief point of controversy is the wisdom of $56 million of public funding, money that would be repaid if the Olympics generate sufficient proceeds. Organizers want to use a small portion of state and local sales tax to build a bobsled-luge run, speed-skating rink and ski jump.

Utahns should understand that this money does not come from a new tax. It is raised by diverting 1/32 of a cent from the already-existing state and local sales taxes. This is projected at $7 annually for each taxpaying household over 10 years.

Yet the economic impact of the Games could be as high as $800 million to $900 million. It is worth noting that the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary was both popular and economically beneficial. Even Calgary cynics now admit that the city is better off from having acted as host.

Estimates of the costs for Calgary now are close to $660 million. But the ABC television network alone paid oganizers an unprecedented $325 million to broadcast the games.

By the end of the closing ceremonies, the Games had brought a $2 billion economic impact to Canada, leaving a surplus of some $36.1 million.

The Games also catapulted tourism and put Calgary on the international business map. Bill Pratt, president of the Canadian Olympic Association, suggested a parallel for Salt Lake City, saying, "Nobody knows how nice Salt Lake is until you get there."

Calgary benefited from the presence of 20,000 volunteers who exuded an impressive sense of community. Former Calgary Mayor Ralph Klein said "The final and most enduring legacy is a new spirit in the community. It is the new way that Calgarians feel about Calgary."

Even the many specially built sporting facilities have enjoyed reasonable success after the event. The $130 million Saddledome, built to host hockey events for the 1988 Games, reports healthy profits.

Now that most of the debates have been held on the issue, it is easy to assess the advantages of the 1998 Winter Games for Salt Lake City:

- Tourism. By every objective measurement, Salt Lake City stands to gain as a tourist center, bringing important economic benefits.

- Economics. If Salt Lake realizes the projected $800 million to $900 million benefit, it would be well worth the sacrifice.

- Image. Much has been said in recent months about Salt Lake's deteriorating image, both from outsiders and insiders. Jim Jardine, one of the Olympic organizers, characterized the city as "languishing in a psychological trough." The experience of working together for a common cause could be an unparalleled psychological lift. The sense of community that energized Calgary could do the same for Salt Lake City.

- New sports facilities. The additional facilities would probably pay for themselves many times over as future Olympic training centers and with other public useas Utah moves into the next century and attracts additional winter sports enthusiasts.

Salt Lake voters should resoundingly approve the Olympics during the Nov. 7 referendum. Salt Lake City, "the crossroads of the West," now stands at a new crossroads of opportunity and progress.