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S.L. officials tour Village ? an alpine Club Med

SHARE S.L. officials tour Village ? an alpine Club Med

A city of jackets, some 7,500 of them flitting like blue jays, will reach critical mass by Tuesday.

That's opening day for the Olympic Village, formerly known as Fort Douglas and the University of Utah dorms. This community, bigger than many Utah towns, will buzz like no other Beehive State locale: Clustered around athletes' apartments there's an alcohol-free nightclub, shops, a first-run movie theater, a bank, an Internet cafe and 24-hour restaurants.

Those blue-jacketed inhabitants ? 3,500 Olympians, 4,000 Salt Lake Organizing Committee staff and volunteers ? will be swaddled in security.

Waiting in a bus inside the tunnel tent at the village entrance, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Dave Buhler asked, "Are we all being X-rayed now?"

The 2002 Olympic Village has everything but a shark-stocked moat around it. The place is a world apart, and even its previous landlord, University of Utah President Bernie Machen, had to wait weeks before touring it Friday. Machen wants to ban guns on campus, but the Legislature has told him he can't. However, SLOC does have jurisdiction over the Olympic Village, and that will be the only place on campus guns are banned.

At first SLOC, ruler of the village now through March, barred members of the news media from Friday's tour. Then the Olympic organizers were reminded of the law that requires City Council gatherings to be open ? so Trudy Kareus, of SLOC's governmental relations division, quickly found some extra tour passes.

City Council members, however, realize this is no longer their city. SLOC and federal security forces are in control now. Salt Lake City Corp. provided opening ceremonies tickets for the seven council members and their spouses, at a cost of nearly $12,000. The mayor and council are planning on hosting two parties for randomly chosen Salt Lake residents, before opening ceremonies Feb. 8 and before closing ceremonies Feb. 24. But how will they actually get to those events?

"I have no idea," said Councilman Eric Jergensen. The University TRAX line won't run past 900 East on opening night, and a fortress of security will keep cars away from Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"I'm going to walk," said Jill Love, another new council member. She lives about a mile from the stadium. "I'm planning now what I'm going to wear" to keep warm.

Strolling around the Olympic Village on a sunny morning, imagining the 75 acres teeming with Olympians and decorated with flags from 80 nations, the council members were impressed.

"This is really one of the most spectacular villages ever created," said tour guide Troy Anderson. That's not because it has services other villages haven't had. Utah's haven for athletes owes its distinction to Mother Nature, Anderson said. With the haze of recent weeks swept out of the valley, the village has views of the Wasatch and the Oquirrhs, with the sun lighting them as for a vacation brochure.

The village is outfitted like an alpine Club Med: chefs, massage therapists, a palatial gym and thousands of people eager to feed, counsel, care for and interview the athletes. The International Zone, a kind of Main Street encircling the team-welcoming stage and array of Olympic nations' flags, will be open to the 9,000 accredited members of the media covering the Games. All the signs are in English and French, the two official Olympic languages. But whatever an athlete's native tongue, Anderson said, each will have no trouble locating the essentials: Internet cafe, Hallmark gift shop, McDonald's.

The 3,500 Olympians are moving in "as we speak," he added. They will be able to stay till Feb. 26, two days after the Winter Games end. Then the village will make the transition to Paralympics mode, and Paralympians can start moving in March 1.

E-mail: durbani@desnews.com