Olympic Gold? San Diego throws its name in the ring(s)

Last August, a plan to host the 2024 Summer Olympic Games here was modified from a binational effort, with Tijuana, to a San Diego-only bid. The U-T San Diego Editorial Board recently met with Vincent Mudd, chairman of the San Diego 2024 Exploratory Committee, to discuss the city’s proposal, the first goal of which is to get onto the U.S. Olympic Committee’s shortlist of American cities in January. The final U.S. candidate will be chosen by the end of 2014. The following is an excerpt of that interview.

Q: Give us a status report on where you are now and what you’re doing to get on that shortlist of cities.

A: Just one quick piece of background is that a city can’t decide it wants to pursue the Olympic Games. The U.S. Olympic Committee has to decide it’s going to pursue the Olympic Games and then select a U.S. city to do so. And so about seven months ago the committee sent out to approximately 35 U.S. cities a document that asked, are you interested in hosting the Olympic Games. Even though the USOC cannot publicly confirm who responded, it appears that 10 U.S. cities did respond in the affirmative. And San Diego was one of those cities.

Q: Along with Los Angeles and San Francisco.

A: Yes. We believe there are three California cities that have shown an interest, the largest interest in a single state. So where we are now is 18 months ago, even before the request from the USOC, we put together a committee to look at studying the games. We called it “32 for 2032” because our belief was that it may take two decades to be prepared for a game such as this. Our committee then was asked to respond and represent the city of San Diego in responding to the 2024 bid request from the USOC. So when the USOC asked, are you interested in hosting for 2024? our response was, yes, we are. Once you do that they send you their technical manuals. The first task is to see if you actually have the ability to meet the technical standards that are requested by the U.S. Olympic Committee. If you can’t do that, then there really is no reason to bid.

A rendering of the proposed Olympic Village in San Diego. — Courtesy San Diego 2024 Exploratory Committee.

Q: And what do they include in the technical standards?

A: Everything down to how large your venues are, how many lanes there are in your swimming pool, how your spectators are going to be able to see and view the games.

Q: And it’s strictly for the athletic events.

A: It’s the venues themselves, it’s the access to the venues, it’s the travel time to and from the venues. It’s where the athletes stay, it’s where the press stays, it’s where the public stays. And it’s your ability to ramp up for the Olympic Games. You have to meet the organizational requirements. You have a number of benchmarks and best practices — you have to go and make sure you have those. And then, thirdly, what they’re asking for is a political structure that will support the games. They actually do their own polling in your community, the USOC. And, ultimately, the International Olympic Committee will do their own polling, as well. They won’t go anywhere they’re not welcome. And if you don’t have public support, that process will stop very quickly.

Q: So where are you at now?

A: The selection for 2024 by the international committee will be somewhere around September of 2017. The USOC wants to make their selection of their single city by the beginning of 2015. And then that way that city would have basically a year and nine months to really compete. So right now we’re preparing to send back to the USOC the plan with the suggested revisions that they’ve given us from our original plan, which I may add were not significant and were not structural changes. Meaning, it feels like we captured much of what they were looking for in our first official pass. They will then hopefully signal to us that we are still in the running, which we hope we are. And then in January we would hope that we are selected as one of the three U.S. cities to still compete in 2014.

Q: It seems that if the city needs to build a new stadium to host the Olympics, and the Chargers need a new stadium as well, that these two issues should merge.

A: They’re more merged than you realize. We’ve been told we need a total of 26 venues, of which, surprisingly, we already have 22. So we have four new venues that we need to build. And two of them are related to the stadium. One of them is a place to play track and field. And then, secondly, we have to have a place to play rugby and soccer. Oddly enough, football stadiums don’t tend to be the ideal stadiums for rugby and soccer or for track and field. And so part of our proposal is a stadium in the downtown cluster next to Petco Park. And if you look at our Mission Valley site, you’ll see there’s a stadium there, as well. And either of those two sites would make sense for football. Now let me tell you something from a technical standpoint. This is not always desired but it happens. If you can imagine it, you can lower a field to make it a football field and you can raise a field to add track and field. Does that make sense? The Olympics are only in effect for a year. And it will take maybe a decade to do this. So you could imagine that you could play football in a football stadium for a period of time. And when the Olympics came, you could configure that stadium to support the Olympic track and field. So what I’m saying is these two conversations will merge if we do get onto the shortlist.

Q: I think as soon as you raise the question of the Olympics in San Diego, for most citizens the first question they’re going to ask is, how can we possibly pay for that? Talk a little about what it would cost — both the bid process itself and, if successful, how much would it cost? We’ve seen figures of about $10 billion.

A: The Olympics can be very, very expensive if you’re building to the Olympics. If the only reason why you’re doing any of this work is to host the Olympic Games, a city should never do it. This is only best accomplished if hosting the Olympic Games are part of your 2050 vision anyway. In other words if your 2050 vision is to build a convention center and add 800,000 square feet to it, then we can use that convention center as our press and media center and to host gymnastics and judo. And it does not cost the taxpayers any more money because it was going to be built anyway. Same with building a new stadium. That’s something that San Diego’s been talking about for a period of time. If we use that stadium as one of our Olympic venues it is not a cost of the Olympics. The key is to leverage the investments that the city’s already made and is going to make.

Q: Where does that money come from?

A: It’s almost all private money. In Los Angeles it was basically almost all private money. They sold sponsorships. They sold a number of different things. The Olympic Torch, people paid to hold the torch. So that’s called your organization committee budget, and we think that’s going to cost us about $3 billion. The other budget is your infrastructure budget. This is to build your venues and everything else. And in San Diego, if we do this the way I think we’re doing this, we’re talking probably about $3-1/2 billion to $4 billion because we have to build four venues. That money is going to be very difficult to be privately sourced. So those venues will probably be paid for by the public.

Q: We probably should have asked this question at the very beginning, but maybe it’s a good one to close with. Make the case — what would hosting the Olympic Games do for San Diego? Why should the public get behind it?

A: My belief is that San Diego as a city and as a region has been trying to demonstrate its ability to show the world that we are a leader. And we have a culture of sports in San Diego, not just because of what happens outside, but because of what we bring in, so the golf industry has decided this is the place to be for a lot of reasons. We have major sports, two bowl games, marathons, other venues that are going on in San Diego every single day. And we can easily accommodate the Olympics in a way most other cities cannot. The other thing is that if you look at San Diego, you notice very quickly that we improve things in little bits and fits. We’ve got things over here that look like they’re done well and things over here that look like they’re done well, but they don’t communicate with each other, and they’re not connected. The thing about the Olympics is that it will help us connect San Diego together. We can use the Olympics as a means of getting a master plan for the region. It’s probably the best master plan development entity that’s out there. And so we can take advantage of it to make sure that we develop our region so that it works for all the citizens.


San Diego Vaulter Magazine
San Diego Vaulter Magazine

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