The costs associated with hosting the 2002 Winter Games, especially to the state's poor, could outweigh the benefits, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Stuart Reid told a group of public administrators.
If Salt Lake City is chosen as the site of the Winter Games, organizers must "make sure many people and many segments of our community benefit from the Olympics, not just the elites," Reid said.Reid and Salt Lake Olympic Bid Committee spokesman Bob Hunt-er both spoke Monday to about two dozen members of the local chapter of the American Society for Public Administration.
Hunter pledged that the privately financed organizers would work with government to "see if there are some ways we can use Olympic money" to cover the costs of housing for low-income residents.
He even suggested the Legislature might consider paying for programs for the poor with taxes now being set aside to build winter sports facilities, hastening to add that only lawmakers could decide if that's an appropriate use.
Some $59 million in sales taxes is expected to be spent on a bobsled and luge run and other proposed Olympic venues before those revenues revert to the state's general fund at the end of the decade.
At any rate, Hunter said, the Olympic bid is serving as "a catalyst for getting us to talk about these growth issues" even though they are not a result of the bid for the Winter Games.
But Reid, a first-term councilman and a public relations manager for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said poor and lower-income Utahns are already being hurt by Olympics-related growth.
"Growth is reconstructing our economy," he said, adding that the exposure Utah has received during its two bids for the Olympics is fueling the increase in population.
Salt Lake City narrowly lost the 1998 Winter Games to Nagano, Japan, in 1991. The International Olympic Committee will choose the site of the 2002 Winter Games in June.
Reid said the state's economic boom is generating mostly low-paying, service industry jobs. At the same time, housing costs continue to climb, making it difficult for many to find affordable housing.
In fact, Reid said, he himself would not be able to afford the home he bought eight years ago in northwest Salt Lake for $80,000 because its value has nearly doubled.
And, he said, land speculators are already buying up property in the hopes that the Olympics will be awarded to Salt Lake City. "The wealthier will become more wealthy. They'll do very well with the Olympics."
Utah's economy, touted as the best in the country by many financial experts, is attracting more and more new residents, especially the poor in search of a better life, Reid said.
The Olympic bid makes the state even more attractive to job seekers. State officials have estimated the Winter Games will boost the economy by $1.4 billion with mostly temporary jobs.
"That creates an excitement and attraction to Utah at a time when we're already growing and not managing it very well," he said. "They think this is the promised land, the land of milk and honey."
An analysis of the effect of the Olympics on property costs, roads and other infrastructure and, of course, the poor, needs to be done right away if Salt Lake City gets the Games, he said.
"The same energy (used to to win the bid) needs to be applied to (protect) those who are going to be hurt if the Olympics come here," he said, noting that a cost-benefit analysis should have been done sooner.
"I hate to be a person who's throwing cold water on the excitement, but I don't think we've done our homework as well as we can," Reid said. "The downsides are not being looked at."
That's the same message delivered by Utah industrialist Jon Huntsman. Huntsman has said the state no longer needs the Olympics and that bid promoters are "sugarcoating" the possibility that the Winter Games could lose money.
Unlike Huntsman, Reid does not oppose the bid. He said even if an analysis proves that costs outweigh benefits, the city shouldn't give up the Winter Games.
"I think you have to manage the best you can at this point. It would be a real embarrassment to walk away," he told a reporter after the meeting.