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Trying to host a major event exacts a painful price

SHARE Trying to host a major event exacts a painful price

Does this sound familiar?

A city wanting to better its image bids for a major event and gets it. This event is billed as something that will boost tourism and the economy and project to the world a healthy, thriving community. An estimated 15,000 members of the media are expected to chronicle it, ensuring massive exposure. Best of all, taxpayers are told it won't cost them anything.

Right. And you can swim across the Atlantic Ocean without getting wet.

The city soon realizes that revenue from various sources isn't going to be enough to cover all the costs to stage this blockbuster event. And so now John and Jane taxpayer are going to have to chip in for the thing to be staged.

Local government is not amused. Neither are some citizens who wonder about the wisdom of going after the event in the first place.

You may have guessed what the above is about — that's right, the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in mid-August.

At least Salt Lake City, for all its troubles, is getting an international event that is synonymous with excitement: the 2002 Winter Olympics. Los Angeles is going in the hole for Al Gore. Maybe he could do some fund-raisers to take care of the shortfall. Or would there be some controlling legal authority to prevent him from doing that?

Here's what the Los Angeles Times recommended in an editorial:

The city has no legal obligation to help Los Angeles' private "host committee" meet a multimillion-dollar shortfall in funding the Democratic National Convention. But the bottom line is that if the money isn't found somehow, it will be the city with egg on its face.

Los Angeles' reasons for hosting the August convention still stand: exposure and image-building of the kind that a national convention of doctors or even dot-com businesses can't supply. The national media attention is invaluable — assuming, of course, that nothing goes terribly wrong. Add to that the $135 million economic benefit expected when 7,000 delegates, many thousands more staffers and 15,000 media people come to town.

Now, with only eight weeks to go, the National Democratic Party is clamoring for the rest of the millions promised by the hosts. The City Council has every right to rail about broken promises and unfulfilled obligations — and someone should raise questions about the flawed planning and process that subjected the city to this last-minute bailout. But in the end, the council this week should approve the $4 million to ensure that the Los Angeles region plays the proper host in August to its guests from the rest of the nation.

The Los Angeles City Council did approve the bailout but not without the appropriate political shenanigans. And light rail wasn't even discussed. The swing voter, Jackie Goldberg, held the city hostage. She had clout and did she ever use it.

One of the things she insisted on was designating downtown L.A.'s Pershing Square as a gathering place for the thousands of expected demonstrators. Police are not happy.

Goldberg initially proposed that Pershing Square be renamed "First Amendment Square" for the duration of the convention.

"Why not just call it Che Guevara square and get it over with?" a council aide, as reported by The Los Angeles Times, groused.

She also used her newfound power to force Mayor Richard Riordan to pay $1 million of his own money as part of the bailout.

As the L.A. Times reported: Her more mischievous amendment was aimed at Riordan, whom she openly dislikes and who reciprocates that feeling. Because of the councilwoman, Riordan will literally pay for supporting the subsidy.

Maybe it's a good thing Goldberg wasn't on the Salt Lake City Council when Deedee Corradini was mayor.

Whatever the locale, preparing to stage a significant event like the Olympics or a national convention is more complicated than the event itself. The headaches are large and occur often.

Salt Lake, you're in good company.

Deseret News editorial writer John Robinson can be reached by e-mail at jrob@desnews.com