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Bud World to make a Salt Lake splash

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Everyone has heard of the Budweiser Clydesdales. But what about the Budweiser penguins?

The black-and-white birds will make an appearance at the big Olympic bash Anheuser-Busch is throwing in downtown Salt Lake City. Bud World will take over the Gallivan Center Feb. 8-24.

City officials have touted Bud World as a family-oriented attraction, not just a gathering place for the 21-and-older-crowd, the legal drinking age in Utah.

But anti-alcohol activist Dr. George Van Komen sees something sinister in the beer brewer trotting out big horses and exotic birds.

"Obviously, what they're planning on doing is not only targeting adults but targeting children. If anyone does that well, it's Anheuser-Busch," he said.

Van Komen said that even though children won't drink at the Gallivan Center, they'll leave with a positive image of Budweiser. "They start their branding preference very early," he said.

Anheuser-Busch issued a three-paragraph statement Tuesday in response to Van Komen's criticism.

"Underage drinking is something we all want to prevent, and the most successful efforts start with involving parents, teachers, law enforcement professionals and other caring adults in talking with our young people about respecting themselves and the law," the statement read in part.

It went on to say Anheuser-Busch and its wholesalers have spent more than $375 million to combat underage drinking and drunken driving and to promote personal responsibility.

Along with several varieties of beer, Bud World will offer live entertainment, big-screen broadcasts, interactive games, sports clinics, acrobatic skiing and snowboarding shows, food and soft drinks.

The company's "animal ambassador" will host twice-daily wildlife shows that, in addition to penguins, will feature a bald eagle and other animals. Anheuser-Busch owns nine theme parks including SeaWorld.

The famous Clydesdales ? which stirred controversy with an appearance in the Days of '47 Parade a decade ago ? will be stabled in the plaza and hitched for daily walks.

Van Komen said his Alcohol Policy Coalition plans a "systematic response" to the company's marketing and promotions, though he didn't describe exactly what it would entail.

Anheuser-Busch, an Olympic sponsor that has sunk some $50 million into the 2002 Winter Games, will have a major presence in Salt Lake City.

The St. Louis-based company has exclusive rights to broadcast commercials on NBC, CNBC and MSNBC during the Games. It intends to air more than 120 thirty-second spots promoting Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob along with its theme parks and consumer education program.

Van Komen earlier criticized the city for permitting alcohol at the Olympic festival at Washington Square. After trading barbs with Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson for more than a year, the two reached a truce last month over a set of alcohol service rules for the square.

But for Van Komen, Bud World is a different story.

"We'll be there. We're not going to go away," he said. "I'm not going to be gone until the final flame of the Olympics is doused."

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com