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SLOC envisions nightly concerts in Games plaza

Olympic trustees were expected Thursday to see how a downtown parking lot will be transformed into the medals plaza that will be the center of the nightly celebrations planned for the 2002 Winter Games.

A model of the plaza was scheduled to be shown in closed session to members of the SLOC Management Committee during a meeting that was also to include a discussion of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's budget.

Although SLOC President Mitt Romney continues to promise that organizers will not leave a debt for Utah taxpayers, he has raised new concerns about raising enough money to cover new expenses not included in the more than $1.3 billion budget.

Those expenses include needing to lease two additional floors of office space in the American Stores building downtown as well as having to move temporary buildings and seating onto competition sites weeks earlier than planned.

Romney has said he'd like to raise an additional $20 million from corporate sponsors and individual donors toward closing the more than $60 million budget shortfall. The rest would be made up from SLOC's $140 million contingency plan.

What Romney was most anxious to talk about Thursday, however, was the organizing committee's plans for the medals plaza, where nightly ceremonies will be held for athletes to receive the gold, silver and bronze medals they won earlier in the day.

Romney described the medals plaza during a recent meeting with the Deseret News editorial board as "a Delta Center outside with seating and flags and (stages) and super screens . . .. Our medals plaza is an extraordinary facility."

The plaza is one of the corners of the "Olympic Square" between North Temple and 400 South and 500 West to West Temple that will be fenced off from traffic and secured by SLOC as a celebration site during the Games.

"Our celebrations have received a lot of attention over things that, with the benefit of hindsight, people will say, 'That was a silly concern we had,' " Romney said during his meeting with the newspaper.

One concern he dismissed was the fact that the medals plaza will be constructed on a downtown parking lot. The lot is on a block owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Besides the nightly medals awards ceremonies, the plaza will host free concerts. Romney said SLOC has already received "more than one proposal" from potential concert sponsors, including several record labels.

"It is unprecedented in scope and scale," he said. Atlanta created Centennial Olympic Park for the 1996 Summer Games and Sydney set up popular celebration sites with big-screen TVs throughout the city during the the 2000 Summer Games.

"This is one grand experiment that we're putting forward, that no Olympics that I know of has done, which is to say we are going to have in downtown Salt Lake City every night a massive celebration site. Not just a medals plaza where a few thousand people go."

The medals plaza alone will hold 20,000 people — 10,000 seated and 10,000 standing — plus another 60,000 outside in the square. "It will be an incredible place for people to come," Romney said, which will set an example for future Olympics.

Depending, of course, on the weather. "If we have freezing weather and terrible winds and so forth, it will be empty," he joked.