Another Olympics in Utah may be a decade away, but it’s already time to start planning for whatever big projects the state hopes to tackle ahead of welcoming the world again.

That was the advice of former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, Sen. Mitt Romney and other leaders during a panel discussion about making a 2034 Winter Games a generational success, hosted by the Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute at the University of Utah with the Deseret News and the University of Utah.’s Hinckley Institute of Politics.

Salt Lake City is the International Olympic Committee’s preferred host for the 2034 Winter Games. Next week, more than a dozen IOC members and staff will visit the state to inspect venues in anticipation of a final vote by the full membership in Paris on July 24, celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah.

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Leavitt said the Olympics must be seen as more than just the 17 days of competition.

“The value of the Olympics to the state is the 10 years in advance of the Games, during which there is a huge amount of back pressure that will allow you to get a lot of things done that you could never get done in their absence,” he said, citing the massive reconstruction of I-15 completed in record time to be ready for Utah’s 2002 Winter Games.

That never would have happened without the Olympics looming “to make us do a hard thing and a risky thing. But we did it successfully,” said the former governor there to share the public policy lessons detailed in his new multi-volume memoir as part of a series of panel discussions, moderated by Deseret News Executive Editor Doug Wilks, “What’s Past is Prologue.”

Romney, chosen by Leavitt to lead the 2002 Olympic organizing committee that had been tainted by scandal, stressed the need to start now to secure the funding needed from Congress for security and spectator transportation during the Olympics, warning the price tag for what he called the equivalent of staging 50 Super Bowls could end up being billions of dollars.

“Ten years from now, our country is likely to be facing some very tough financial times. We’re already in that circumstance with a lot of people very angry about how much is being spent,” the senator said by internet connection from Washington, D.C. If Utah waits too long to request that funding “that may not be a welcome request and it may not be granted. If it’s not granted, why that would be very, very difficult indeed.”

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He suggested an effort begin immediately to lobby Congress for setting aside funding annually to cover security and transportation costs not just for another Winter Games in Utah, but also the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. Teaming up with California’s congressional delegation will help boost Utah’s “lift power” in Washington, D.C., Romney said.

“I’m always worried about the numbers,” he said, noting those costs are not part of the “thoughtful” $2.45 billion budget proposed for staging the Winter Games that’s expected to come entirely from private sources, largely the sale of sponsorships, broadcast rights and tickets.

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, speaks on an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games panel at “What’s Past is Prologue: Public policy lessons from the past quarter century” at the Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Fraser Bullock, president and CEO of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s behind the bid, assured the audience of about 100 gathered at the Thomas S. Monson Center that 10 guarantees have been obtained from the federal government including for security, part of the IOC’s bid requirements.

“They support us and we’re thrilled about that,” Bullock said. Later he told the Deseret News one of the guarantees is signed by U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and pledges a 2034 Olympics would be designated a national special security event protected with federal security, just as the Super Bowl is every year.

Bullock, who served as the chief operating officer of the 2002 Games, also said later that the federal government spent a total of $240 million on security for that event, including a $40 million increase following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States, plus $87 million for spectator transportation. Those costs should be less than $1 billion for a 2034 Olympics, he said.

The Utah lawmakers on the panel, Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, and Rep. Jon Hawkins, R-Pleasant Grove, the co-chairman of the Legislature’s Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games Coordination Committee, both agreed it’s time to focus on what the state wants to get done in the lead-up to the event.

“I think there’s urgency to answer the question,” McKell said, adding “we need to get that framework in place today. I think there’s a lot of things we want to accomplish.” That includes highlighting industries in the state, readying roads and law enforcement, and developing affordable housing, he said.

Hawkins called for improvements in public transit because “our population will continue to grow even after the Olympics, so we’ve got to figure out a way to expand our transportation infrastructure” that doesn’t rely on more freeway lanes. “It’s about how do we make Utah a place that people want to continue even after the Olympics. It can’t be southern California, the traffic gridlock.”

Former state Senate President Lane Beattie, who served as Utah’s Olympic officer or “czar” under Leavitt, said more than 400 contracts were put in place by the state for the Olympics, ranging from agreements with local governments to a deal that brought an original copy of the Declaration of Independence to the state Capitol.

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Olympic organizers “have a lot on their plate already. They have to have the state as a true partner,” Beattie said.

Leavitt said that as the 2002 Olympics neared, everyone seemed to have a project that needed to get done.

“In a way, it was amusing. It was also really powerful,” the former governor said, creating a momentum he sees as carrying over to new efforts getting underway, including revitalizing downtown Salt Lake City to help attract new Major League Baseball and National Hockey League teams to Utah’s Capital.

Romney said it may be tempting to keep telling Utahns the Olympics will be a great experience for them but they need to know there will be difficulties.

“What happened with our Olympics that made it so successful was that people began to realize this was an opportunity for us to help serve the world. This was about service. It was about giving, not receiving,” he said, adding, “This is not going to be easy. This is about Utah helping to serve the world, not about Utah getting a big gift from the Olympics.”

Leavitt’s four volume electronic memoir is available at www.leavitthistory.com.

Jackie Leavitt, former first lady of Utah, applauds during an Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games panel at “What’s Past is Prologue: Public policy lessons from the past quarter century” at the Thomas S. Monson Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2024. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News