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LEAVITT AGREES GAMES ARE NOT WITHOUT RISK

Gov. Mike Leavitt said Friday he "couldn't agree more" with Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman's surprise pronouncements about the financial risks of hosting an Olympics.

"I hope I have been and will continue to be a voice of warning," the governor said in an interview with the Deseret News. "This is not without risk."Should Salt Lake City be selected next June by the International Olympic Committee as the site of the 2002 Winter Games, Leavitt said the long-term benefits will outweigh the risk of running up debts.

"I'm not caught up in the Olympic spirit as much as I am in seeing a good opportunity," he said. "I see this as a means in which we can, in a lasting way, cement in the minds of the world a perception of quality."

The governor, who has already come up with a plan to pay off any debts with the government's share of Olympic revenues, said he believes financial losses can be avoided.

"I continue to believe the Games can be done in a way that's financially responsible and within the budget," now estimated at about $798 million. "Otherwise, I wouldn't be supporting it."

But if Huntsman's wariness about the potential economic downside of an Olympics is meant as a warning that "we need to go into this with our eyes wide open, I couldn't agree with him more," Leavitt said.

Earlier this week, Huntsman stunned bid supporters by telling the Salt Lake Rotary Club the public needs to be aware that every business venture, including an Olympics, has the potential to lose money.

Huntsman said he gets "upset sometimes when I see governments, when I see businesses . . . or when I even see our own Olympics, where we sugarcoat what we should be telling the public."

Since that speech, Huntsman reportedly also has questioned the benefit of bringing the 2002 Winter Games to Utah, suggesting the state no longer needs either the temporary jobs or the international exposure.

Huntsman served as a worldwide economic development ambassador during former Gov. Norm Bangerter's second term, a post created after Huntsman briefly entered the governor's race.

According to a spokesman for Huntsman Chemical Corp., Huntsman, a one-time supporter of Salt Lake City's Olympic bid, was out of the state on Friday and not available to elaborate on his comments.

The comments follow Leavitt's release of a report estimating that the 2002 Winter Games could boost the state's economy by more than $1.7 billion and provide the equivalent of year-long employment for some 20,000 people.

The governor said Friday the real benefit of bringing the Olympics to Utah is not those jobs.

"I agree with (Huntsman) that the reason to do this is not to create 20,000 person-years of jobs. The Olympics will come and go and those jobs will come and go," Leavitt said.

"What I'm interested in is the long-term positioning of the state," the governor said. The Olympics "creates a broad perception of quality and awareness."

He cited Lillehammer, the tiny Norwegian community that hosted the television ratings-setting 1994 Winter Games. "The world knows Lillehammer, and it's a village. (Now) when people go to Norway, they're going to want to go to Lillehammer because that's the place they know."

The value of such exposure can't be calculated, Leavitt said.

"It's a very difficult proposition to break through the international clutter of advertising and communications to establish your name in the hearts and minds of people who make economic decisions. This is a way you can imprint it in a lasting way. That's the economic benefit of the Olympics to me."