Their schedules said they were visiting the Olympic Village at the University of Utah, but that's not what members of a special panel evaluating Salt Lake City's bid for the 2002 Winter Games saw.
That's because unlike most of the facilities that Salt Lake City would need to play host to an Olympics, the housing required for some 4,000 athletes has yet to be built.The Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee and the U. have agreed to try to work out a deal to build apartment-style housing on campus that would be converted to dorms after the Winter Games.
The estimated cost for the project is $70 million, and the bid committee is offering to put up $28 million from anticipated Olympic revenues. The U. would have to come up with the rest, at least in part from taxpayers.
That question of just how the project would be funded was raised by several members of the In-ter-national Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission, which is spending three days in Utah reviewing the technical aspects of the city's bid.
Before taking a tour of the campus Monday afternoon, they asked where the money would come from and who was guaranteeing it would be there if Salt Lake City is selected next year to host the 2002 Winter Games.
The 15 evaluation commission members got assurances about the project from both Bid Committee President Tom Welch and U. President Arthur K. Smith. Welch said flatly that the bid committee is the guarantor.
U.S. Olympic Committee President LeRoy T. Walker, on hand to help Salt Lake's bid, said Atlanta was making similar arrangements with Georgia State for the 1996 Summer Games.
"This is a common practice in terms of the guarantee you're asking about," Walker said. Georgia State is tearing down dorms and building new ones for athlete housing. The U. is considering a similar plan.
Smith called the project a partnership that will produce dorm space in exchange for a reasonable investment. "The only doubt is where it is going to come from. There is no doubt we will have it," he said.
The U. typically issues tax-exempt bonds to cover the cost of student housing, repaying them with rental payments from students, Smith said, but this project, though, might require "some state assistance."
Not mentioned was an alternative proposal for athlete housing recently suggested by Salt Lake County Commissioner Jim Bradley that could be considered if the U. project falls through.
Bradley wants to build the Olympic Village in downtown Salt Lake Cityand convert it to low-income housing after the Games, using federal grants and other government assistance.
Despite all the discussion about housing, U. officials were reluctant to show campus dorms to evaluation commission members. Only after commission chairman Thomas Bach insisted were two members escorted through Austin Hall.
The pair, which included the commission's athlete representative, Finnish skier Marjo Matikainen, looked less than enthusiastic at the small room they were shown - and at the bathroom shared by 25 students.
The reason so much emphasis is being placed on where athletes will eat and sleep during the two weeks of an Olympics was explained by Bach, himself an Olympic fencer.
"Many people tell you about the Olympic spirit. The only place you can feel it is in the Olympic Village," Bach said in an interview. "If athletes don't feel good, you can't have a good Games."
The Olympic Village, he said, "is the heart of a Games."
Backers of Salt Lake City's bid already knew the Olympic Village is important to the IOC. The condition of the U. dorms was one of the only faults the IOC found with Salt Lake City's unsuccessful bid for the 1998 Winter Games.
Whether there will be an Olympic Village at the U. depends in large part on the findings of the evaluation commission. Salt Lake City is the first of the nine candidate cities to be evaluated.
The other cities competing for the 2002 Winter Games are Quebec, Canada; Sion, Switzerland; Graz, Austria; Ostersund, Sweden; Jaca, Spain; Poprad-Tatry, Slovakia; and Sochi, Russia.
The evaluation commission was created to help narrow the field to just four cities in January. Salt Lake City, considered the front-runner, is expected to make that cut. The IOC will make the final selection next June.
On Tuesday, the evaluation commission was scheduled to return to the U. for a tour of Rice Stadium, which would be expanded at a cost of $10 million for Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.
Then the members were to be taken by helicopter to view the Snowbasin ski resort near Ogden and the Utah Winter Sports Park near Park City, built with a large share of the $59 million taxpayers have invested in the Olympics.