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Olympic bid offers hidden rewards

The money, all $150,000 of it, is long gone.

Tampa officials smitten with the idea of pursuing the 2012 Olympic Games already have dipped into the public reservoir to make their pitch.

Don't worry about the money being non-refundable, they said when they pulled the $150,000 application fee from tourist development funds. And don't worry about the millions more needed to mount a full-fledged bid.

Even if Tampa fails to get the Games _ as most cities do _ local leaders say the money spent will pay for itself in numerous ways. It will spur regional cooperation, bring favorable attention to the area, generate tourism and possibly even convince businesses that Tampa is just the place to relocate.

But will it really?

Maybe, according to several cities that have tried and failed to get the Games. But not all of the oft-mentioned reasons for the pursuit reflect reality.

One reason that ultimately turns out to be less than advertised, those city representatives say, is the notion that bidding for the Games will shine a soft, pleasant light on the city and raise people's opinion of it.

"One of the benefits of Tampa being a contender," said Charlie Reese, director of communications for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, "is that Tampa will be mentioned up there with all of these other great cities. That's got some positive value."

But not enough to justify the effort and expense of making an Olympic bid, said Don Fraser, who was mayor of Minneapolis in 1988 when Minneapolis-St. Paul vied unsuccessfully against Atlanta to be America's representative in the international competition for the 1996 Summer Games.

"I always think that part is overrated," Fraser said, adding Minneapolis' profile wasn't raised in any significant way by its Olympic competition.

What about the possibility of businesses reading about Tampa in some glossy Olympic brochure or magazine article and deciding the region would be a good place to go?

"If we get one large corporation that moves to Tampa Bay because it's potentially an Olympic city, it's worth it," said Henry Saavedra, executive director of the Tampa Sports Authority.

Just don't count on that happening, Fraser said. "I would put that as a very low possibility," he said. "These efforts tend to be more about pride and feeling good about your community."

Still, none of the representatives from cities that recently have tried but failed to get the Games said they regret the effort. And some of the reasons officials have listed to justify trying are valid, they said.

Bob Hunter, executive director of the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, said government officials in Tampa Bay work well together for the most part but that coordination could be improved.

"We've had water issues and transportation issues and land-use issues," Hunter said. "This (Olympic bid) could be a catalyst for the communities to work much more closely together."

Joy Maples, director of communications for the Anchorage Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said officials there certainly don't regret that city's failed efforts to land the Winter Olympics in 1992 and 1994.

"That Anchorage (Olympic) committee is still organized," she said, adding that the group raises money for Alaskans who want to participate in athletic events.

Maples said the city's failed bids also were remembered by sports officials. "We're getting all of these small events, which is great," she said, referring to ski competitions and other winter sports.

Officials in Salt Lake City, which failed many times to land the Winter Olympics before finally being picked for 1998, said their region also benefited from its unsuccessful quests.

But Mike Korologos, spokesman for Salt Lake City's Olympic Committee, said city officials who reach for major events often fail to own up to the level of public commitment necessary to see those hopes through.

In Salt Lake City, government officials made it clear to voters in 1989 that building more winter sports facilities would be necessary to make a more effective pitch for the Winter Games. Voters then were asked to consider a sales tax referendum that would provide $59-million for the construction of facilities that supporters said would benefit the city even if the Olympic bid failed.

The referendum passed with 57 percent of the vote.

Salt Lake City's case, Korologos said, should not be ignored by other cities with Olympic dreams.

"You must focus the effort on the grass-roots level," he said, "not with the governor or other politicians. It has to come from the people."