Ailene Voisin: Arena plan's OK makes Sacramento a player in Reno-Tahoe 2022 Olympics bid

03/11/2012 1:00 AM

12/18/2012 12:09 AM

Last Tuesday, of course, was a very eventful evening in Sacramento. Here They Stayed. Yes, they did.

The City Council approved the tentative financing plan for a sports and entertainment complex – a new home for the Kings – by a 7-2 vote. Mayor Kevin Johnson scored the biggest victory of his political career. The post-vote news conference transitioned into a pep rally, complete with singing and chanting and inspirational speeches.

But David Stern wasn't the only one closely monitoring the proceedings from a distance. There is a potentially huge and ongoing sidebar to this story. Or let me put it like this: Does anyone around here care about curling? Figure skating? Hockey? The Olympics?

Within hours of the arena proposal's passage, Sacramento publicly emerged as a significant player in the Reno-Tahoe bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Speaking at a journalists convention Wednesday in Lake Tahoe, Nevada Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, chairman of the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition, identified Sacramento as an important partner in the Olympic bid and a possible site for figure skating, hockey or other events.

"That (council vote) was a terribly important development for us," Krolicki said from his cellphone Friday. "As we do an assessment of all the assets and venues available, having that sports and entertainment complex would be a very useful tool. We need at least eight sheets of ice, and right now, we don't have that. Your airport is a very critical piece, as well."

Now before anyone rushes out and stocks up on those American flags, be forewarned. The bidding process is in the preliminary and exploratory stages, and historically, these endeavors require Herculean lifting and take years from conception to fruition. A woman could give birth to two starting lineups between now and Opening Ceremonies. Apolo Anton Ohno could be a grandfather by 2022, too creaky to lace his skates. Heck, the Kings could return to the playoffs before crowds started shuttling along the Bay Area-Sacramento-Reno-Tahoe corridor.

But Krolicki also cites a critical timeline that warrants immediate movement by partner cities. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) board of directors can vote to authorize a bid as early as this year.

Should it do so, U.S. cities will be asked to declare their interest. The USOC would then select a potential host city – approximately 1 1/2 years out – and submit the bid to the International Olympic Committee, which would evaluate cities from bidding countries and in 2015 select the 2022 winner.

Salt Lake City and Lake Placid, N.Y., are expected to submit bids, but Denver is widely regarded as Reno-Tahoe's major competition.

"Our effort is totally contingent upon the USOC deciding to enter a bid," Krolicki said, "and if they reach that conclusion, we want to be ready. We're working daily on planning, venue and transportation analysis, financial obligations."

The model remains Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Winter Games. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee bid cost the area about $1.3 million but generated an estimated $100 million profit.

Krolicki believes a Reno-Tahoe bid could come in under $5 million and be paid for by private and corporate contributions. The overall expense, he said, will be dictated by the venues – those that exist and those that need to be constructed – which suddenly makes Sacramento so appealing.

Locally, Tuesday's City Council vote boosted a regional effort that involves political leaders of both parties and quietly has been ongoing for about two years. Sacramento State professors Sanjay Varshney and Dennis Tootelian, who were enlisted to provide an economic impact report, are expected to present their findings to the California Winter Games Board and City Council in the next two weeks.

"It's a separate effort (than the arena) that has some obvious dovetails," said City Councilman and local Winter Games co-chairman Rob Fong. "A new arena in this area will have multi-uses and be very beneficial to our attempt to get involved with the Olympics, which is an international event. It's an obvious example of how we can (mold) our image and brand ourselves."

The board's future plans include conferring with venue experts from Salt Lake City, engaging in more detailed conversations with bidding partners in Reno, Tahoe and San Francisco, and measuring the region's degree of interest.

According to Winter Games board chief financial officer Jake Mossawir, poll results showed 60 percent of Californians endorsing some degree of involvement. Krolicki cited even higher favorability numbers in polls conducted in his Reno-Tahoe area.

"An entire region would need to embrace this," said Krolicki, a two-term Republican, "and we know there are concerns regarding traffic, environment.

"But when you look at Salt Lake, the Olympics left physical improvements that lasted far beyond those 15 days. There is light-rail downtown, some infrastructure changes. The idea here is to have no white elephants (facilities that lack post-Games use)."

Also, continued Krolicki, "one of the unique aspects of our bid would be to highlight Lake Tahoe and the environmental stewardship we absolutely must pursue to protect this treasure. We think the Games could provide a clarity regarding environmental issues for decades to come."

As for Sacramento, there are no guarantees. But with last week's developments and the projected fall 2015 opening of a modern sports complex located 100 miles from Lake Tahoe – the largest arena between the Bay Area and Salt Lake City, as a matter of fact – the conversation already has expanded well beyond the Kings.

As it should.


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