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Will the award of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games to Salt Lake City result in a commercial building boom?

Tab Cornelison, a principal in Prime Commercial Inc., says there is no way to tell how much commercial building will come as the result of the Olympics.Why would someone spend millions of dollars building a hotel just to have it full for two weeks of the 2002 Winter Olympics? he asked. If someone is willing to build a hotel, then the decision would be based on Utah's economy and the possibility of the hotel having good occupancy for many years, he said.

Cornelison said his company has been researching the commercial property situation in Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Games, and discovered the Games didn't start having an impact on commercial property until two years before the event.

He said people connected with accommodations like hotels will begin to position themselves in the next few years as the Olympic event approaches, but they realize that if they build a hotel it will be for the long haul of housing those attending conventions and tourists and not just for the Olympics.

Cornelison said the seven-year period between the awarding of the Games and the actual event plenty of time for Utah to suffer an economic letdown, but he doesn't expect that to happen because Utahns know how to work and they know how to get things done.

Because of the publicity Utah has received over the Olympics, Cornelison said the awarding of the bid will give the area a big psychological boost. For many years, he said, Salt Lake City, was considered a stepchild to Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Portland and other Western cities, but that no longer is the case.

Companies having Salt Lake City on their list for possible relocation or expansion will give the area a longer look because of the Olympics, Cornelison said. "They will realize that something is going on in Utah and will want to be part of it," he said.

Asked if staging the Olympics will cause problems for Utah, Cornelison said the NBA All-Star Game was held in the Delta Center two years ago and "it didn't turn the area upside down. Some large conventions will have a bigger impact on the area than the Olympics."

Holding the Olympics in Utah will have positive impact because the events are only 45 minutes from the Salt Lake International Airport and the weather won't be as cold as in many other areas hosting recent Winter Olympics, he said.

On the negative side, Cornelison said the population in Utah will grow 25 percent between now and 2002, and the infrastructure isn't able to handle it. He said traffic jams are a problem now, and they will become acute in the next few years.

He believes the proposed light-rail system should be built as quickly as possible to handle commuters while the freeway are being repaired. Adding more lanes will attract more cars and result in more pollution, he said.

Cornelison said it is hard to make a mistake in real estate these days of 5 percent vacancy, because just as quickly as commercial or residential buildings are completed, they are occupied. He told a story about one person looking for property who waited a few hours to make a decision and when he made up his mind found the property had been leased.