Sports with Art Thiel
5:00 am
Fri March 22, 2013

Should Seattle go for 2024 Summer Olympics?

A lot of people are talking about Seattle being one of the U.S. cities inquiring about a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. 

Is the city ready for something like this? KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel looks at the pros and cons.


Will Seattle bid? Too soon to tell

Sportspress Northwest, the website that Art co-founded, broke the story this week.

The Seattle Sports Commission confirmed that it will enter into “informal” discussions with the U.S. Olympic Committee about the possibility of the city entering the process of becoming a bid city for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. The commission stressed there are no financial commitments involved right now.

Last month, the USOC sent out generic inquiries to 35 major cities that had either previously expressed an interest in bidding for the Summer Olympic Games, or were among the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan markets.

Can be costly

Art says the process takes time. And money.

"This is 11 years out and you need that kind of preparation if you are going to be a U.S. bid city. New York bid for the 2012 games in 2005 and was beaten out by London. Chicago bid for the 2016 games and was beaten out by Rio. Both cities felt burned in the process because they had to spend up to $10 million in what amounts to pre-development costs just to be a bid city. That's the way it always was when cities were flush with tax money."

Things have changed. Art says cities don't have that kind of cash now.

"The United States Olympic Committee is trying to make sure that no public money gets spent by municipalities by doing a more gradual inquiry to find the handful of cities that might want to pursue this kind of investment by 2024."

Seattle ready this time around?

Seattle made a move toward a bid in 1996 to host the 2012 games. But the city council rejected it. Art didn't think Seattle was ready at the time.

"We had the Kingdome. We didn't have a football stadium. We didn't have a baseball stadium. We didn't have a remodeled Husky Stadium. And we didn't have an arena - at least a top-grade one - that we may have very, very soon in the Sodo district."

Art is a veteran of covering the Olympic Games around the world. He says having a well-structured public transportation system is key. He thinks Seattle can get there.

"The important thing is mass transportation - 11 years from now - figures to be a mature, growing enterprise that could manage the huge impacts of hosting an Olympics Games."

Pros and cons to hosting Olympics

Art says hosting the Olympics takes a huge toll on a city.

"What happens is that all development, all policy, all urban planning is seen through the prism of  an Olympics Games. And that can be good and bad. There may be transportation projects that never get done unless they had the urgency forced upon them by the Olympics.  On the other hand, social programs get pushed to the side. That's the kind of civic push-pull that goes on when you're going to be host to the world and you know it seven years ahead of time."

But he thinks it might be good for Seattle to go for it.

"My hope would be that Seattle, by then, might have evolved into a mature city. This may be an opportunity worth exploring at least. As long as it doesn't involve public tax dollars until a point at which it really becomes an obvious thing for most people in the community that this would be a good idea."

You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and Crosscut.com.