Coloradans ponder bid for 2022 Winter Olympics |

Coloradans ponder bid for 2022 Winter Olympics

Christopher N. Osher
The Denver Post

A local push to bring the Winter Olympics to Colorado has renewed an old debate over whether doing so would drain local tax revenues or fuel economic growth.

On the heels of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Gov. Bill Ritter reiterated his desire to bring the games to Colorado, giving a boost to efforts already underway to position the state as a host.

“We’re hoping for 2022,” Ritter said in a radio appearance this month. “I think it’s the right thing. I think it’s a good thing for Colorado if we did it.”

All of the candidates running to replace him – Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, former Republican congressman Scott McInnis and Republican businessman Dan Maes – say they’re open to exploring the idea, though they all have caveats. They say the key is to make sure the economic payoff justifies any costs.

Academics who study the issue warn Coloradans to be wary. It took 30 years to pay off the debt used to finance the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, they say.

More recently, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley saw his popularity sag after he agreed Chicago would give an unlimited financial guarantee to the International Olympic Committee during that city’s losing bid to bring the summer games to Chicago. Businesses there had to raise $70 million just to submit Chicago’s bid, which are more expensive to host than the winter games.

The Olympics left Vancouver and its taxpayers a $1 billion debt from bailing out the Olympic Village development, The New York Times reported.

“For the people advocating that the government won’t have to pay anything, then why don’t they guarantee that with their own wealth?” said Jonathan Willner, an economist at Oklahoma City University who has studied and written about the costs and economic benefits associated with hosting the Olympics.

“This is one of the constants in the Olympics,” he added. “People who advocate for them have a couple of weeks of really good parties, but then they leave the field and leave taxpayers holding the bag for the costs of the party and with things they don’t need.”

The bobsled runs and large arenas left behind would get little use by the public and would continue to have maintenance costs, he said. If those items truly added economic value, then the private sector would have built them already, he said.

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