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HAS S.L. FAILED TO LEARN FROM DENVER’S ERRORS?

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Backers of Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games are making the same mistakes Denver's Olympic boosters made in the 1970s - mistakes that cost the Colorado capital the 1976 Winter Games.

That's according to leaders of Utahns For Responsible Public Spending, a small but growing group of Olympic opponents who are helping to circulate an initiative petition that would halt public spending on the Winter Games.Denver, which had been awarded the 1976 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee, abandoned the event after similar ballot issues were approved by voters in 1972.

That election was the topic of a 22-page study undertaken by the Salt Lake Winter Olympics Feasibility Study Committee back in 1984. The committee ultimately recommended pursuing the Winter Games.

The report found that "some serious errors were made - especially in the areas of process, community involvement, openness and access, and public relations."

"In the end, it was these errors which turned the `bright promise of '76' into one of the most bitter political campaigns in the history of Colorado," the report by consultant Richard Reese stated.

Dave Owen, a spokesman for Utahns For Responsible Public Spending, said the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee hasn't learned the lessons outlined in the report.

"It's the same dynamic in Salt Lake that they had in Denver in 1972," Owen said in an interview Wednesday. "In Denver, they didn't understand it was a political issue until it was too late."

The Olympic opponents are planning to travel to Denver later this month to shoot footage for a video about Colorado's experience with the Winter Games, a video they hope to show at schools and civic organizations.

The video will likely help boost the group's efforts to collect signatures on an initiative petition for the 1996 general election ballot that would prevent public monies from being used to pay for the Winter Games.

If the IOC selects Salt Lake City as the host of the 2002 Winter Games next year, the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee intends to put on the event entirely with Olympic revenues.

Utah taxpayers are spending $59 million on winter sports facilities, including a bob sled and luge run under construction near Park City. That money is to be repaid from Games revenues.

Despite those intentions, though, the bid committee has been pressed to explain what would happen if the Games leave behind a debt, by no less than Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman and Gov. Mike Leavitt.

Bid committee officials have acknowledged they have a public relations problem as a result of financial questions raised by Huntsman, the governor and others and are attempting to soothe those concerns.

Owen said because the public relations push has started so late in the bid effort, he expects enough signatures to be collected on the initiative petitions to cost Salt Lake City the Games.