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Salt Lake getting ready for huge Oly party

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As Salt Lake leaders watched the Olympic Organizing Committee rumble into town like a fleet of monster trucks, they saw the need to plan their own street-level party. They wanted to throw a free bash for Utahns as well as for visitors from other continents — and realized they would need some serious help. So this week, the city picked its partner.

United Concerts, promoter of such shows as the Rolling Stones at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 1994, will orchestrate six stages, eight blocks and 15 days of entertainment downtown during the 2002 Winter Games.

"We're going to provide 14 hours a day of entertainment . . . it's just going to be continuous," said United vice president David McKay. "And what's really exciting about this is that it's all local. It's an opportunity for Salt Lake musicians, artists, dancers, choirs, everything from soup to nuts."

Deseret News graphicDNews graphicOlympic downtown festivalRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Mayor Rocky Anderson seems just as excited — and he's taking a lot of responsibility for the party's success.

"We've made a commitment," Anderson said, "that everyone has a great time during the Games." Calling downtown the "epicenter of the Olympics," the mayor urged Utahns to come and "mingle with our international guests, have a great time and enjoy the spirit of the Olympics."

"This is an opportunity for every person in Utah to create their own Olympic experience," added John Sittner, the city's chief Olympic planner.

Anderson declared Salt Lake City's public-information campaign the most ambitious ever undertaken by an Olympic host city. "Peak Experience," the 16-page magazine sent to Salt Lakers this week, is the first of many mailings that will update residents on Olympic-oriented events in the city, road closures and volunteer opportunities.

For the downtown festival, Sittner is forming a jury to select the performers, craftsmen and 50 food and drink vendors. Two large stages will rise on Washington Square, the block surrounding the City-County Building, as will a huge video screen broadcasting Olympic events. Smaller stages and vending areas will be spread out, five per block, along Main Street and up 300 South to Pioneer Park. Main Street will be closed to vehicular traffic, while 300 South will be open to cars, buses and such.

Applications for artists and vendors will be available from the city on Aug. 1. The festival jury will make selections through September, and once the lineup is announced in early October, United Concerts will step up its planning. McKay will schedule bands and other entertainers to perform from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. each day of the Olympics, with vendors part of the mix.

"We're not going to turn this into a flea market," McKay said. "There will be a screening process. So we know what people are selling and hawking. We may rotate vendors around" from one downtown location to another.

Downtown is expected to see 60,000 to 100,000 people every day of the Games from Feb. 9 through Feb. 24.

"What we all need to do here is let the world know what Utah is all about: the artists who live here and thrive here," McKay said.

The city still needs to trim $500,000 from its Olympic budget due to a deficit that befell fiscal 2002. Sittner said some of the additional lighting around the City-County Building may be reduced, and the city will buy less-costly plastic, not metal, recycling receptacles for downtown.

The city won't cut corners on its eight-block party, said Joshua Ewing, spokesman for the mayor's office. United Concerts' contract totals $729,000, slightly under the $750,000 budgeted for management of the festival. The city will use the extra cash to buy more decorations for downtown, Ewing said.

"In Sydney (during the 2000 Summer Games) the festival atmosphere, the music playing in the streets, the people milling around made it fun, even for the people who weren't going to an Olympic event," Ewing said.

And the city's party has something going for it that SLOC's doesn't: Admission will be free from start to finish.

E-MAIL: durbani@desnews.com