Old downtown warehouses could be converted into apartments for Olympic athletes and later rented to low-income residents if Salt Lake City gets the 2002 Winter Games, under a county official's proposal.

Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said turning unused buildings in the city's warehouse district into apartments is a better use of Olympic revenues than the planned new dorms at the University of Utah."It's not that the U. doesn't need it - they can always use money - but it doesn't leave anything behind," Bradley said. "I really think we need to be as creative as we can with these Olympics to make sure we leave a legacy."

He said his plan, which came out of a conversation with several downtown warehouse owners, would ease the area's housing shortage and revitalize the neighborhood around Pioneer Park.

But Tom Welch, the head of the Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee, said an agreement made several years ago to build an athletes' village at the U. will be honored.

Besides, he said, a large housing project for poorer residents may not be desirable for Salt Lake City. "If you take and locate 4,000 low-income housing units, you create a real problem for the community," Welch said.

Welch said the 4,000-bed Olympic Village is located at the U. in the bid documents being submitted to the International Olympic Committee on Aug. 18. The IOC won't select the site of the 2002 Winter Games until next June.

Other locations for the Olympic Village were considered, Welch said. At one point in a recent interview, he described Bradley's proposal as "an alternative that ought to be discussed. But not now."

Later that same day, Welch said he meant to make it clear that the bid committee has "a commitment with the university we intend to honor."

Bradley said he's been asked by the bid committee to wait to push the warehouse plan until after the IOC makes its choice. "I want to resurrect the idea whenever it's appropriate," he said.

The U. would like both the additional student housing and the money to help pay for it that's been offered by the bid committee, said Tom Nycum, U. vice president for administration.

The campus, which now has dorm space for some 2,000 students, would receive money from the bid committee to build new housing for Olympic athletes. The amount being discussed is reportedly around $19 million.

Besides a place to sleep, the campus also offers athletes gymnasiums, weight rooms, indoor tracks and swimming pools and training facilities. Food service would be provided by the nearby Olpin Union, and the entire area would likely be fenced off from the rest of the U.

Participating in the Winter Games "helps us to get our name out to the world that we are a world-class institution," Nycum said. The campus is also slated to host the opening and closing ceremonies at Rice Stadium.

The plan to house athletes at the U., first proposed in Salt Lake City's unsuccessful bid for the 1998 Winter Games, has raised some concern over the years.

Although the U. Academic Senate endorsed the idea in 1990, some on campus never liked the idea of shutting down the university for several weeks during the Olympics.

And in 1991, a member of the IOC's site evaluation team reviewing the 1998 Winter Games bid said the existing dorms were too small and uncomfortable for Olympic athletes, the only potential technical drawback cited.

This isn't the first time Bradley has come up with a plan to stretch Olympic revenues, which are supposed to pay for staging the Winter Games as well as return the $59 million taxpayers have invested in sports facilities.

Bradley earlier proposed that Olympic speedskating athletes compete on an existing outdoor speedskating oval in Butte, Mont., saving Utahns the cost of building an oval.

Olympic boosters rejected that idea as well as an alternative proposal to build the speedskating oval in the Salt Palace as part of its renovation, and state tax dollars are now being spent on an outdoor oval in Kearns.

Post-Olympics apartments would complement such west central city projects as Artspace at 300 West and Pierpont Avenue, Bradley said. There, old warehouses have been converted into residences, artist studios and offices.

Bradley acknowledged that locating the Olympic Village in downtown Salt Lake could raise security concerns. But he said the warehouse conversions would go a long way to providing low-income housing.

The Salt Lake area has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the nation, which has made affordable housing, especially rentals, difficult to find. The crunch has hit low-income renters especially hard.

Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Cor-ra-dini said Bradley's proposal is "a little late. The decision was made some time ago that the university would be the most appropriate place for an Olympic Village."

Deseret News staff writer Brooke Adams contributed to this story.