Salt Lake Olympics’ Light Shines On

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Fifteen years ago last week, Utah saw a party like no other. For a brief three weeks, the world’s eyes turned to Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Olympics. Who would have guessed that the Beehive State with its crappy liquor laws and right-wing politics could host the world’s biggest party; especially after the devastation of 9-11 in 2001.

salt lake olympics

Photo by Derek Baird

Utah played host to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Feb. 8-24, and became the winter sports capital of the world during the 17-day run. The XIX Olympic Winter Games transformed the sleepy state. They solidified its presence in the ski industry and proved to the world they could handle an event of this magnitude like no other.

Rolling in The Deep From The Salt Lake Olympics

The State spent millions readying venues but reaped billions of dollars towards a growing economy. Hosting the Salt Lake Olympics immediately vaulted the city to the top ranks as a destination for major conventions and meetings and it put Park City on the destination tourism map.  Says Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. “Our success with the Games demonstrated to our residents and to the world that Salt Lake can successfully host events for thousands of attendees. Thanks to our well-developed infrastructure, our service-minded community, and the urban amenities of a vibrant city, the world saw firsthand that Salt Lake is a unique destination for visitors.”

The Olympics brought in almost $5 billion in sales, over $200 million in media exposure value and $1.5 billion in earnings for Utah workers, representing thousands of jobs, according to official state impact reports. But former organizers take credit for the boom Utah continued to feel long after the Games.

“The city was just ranked No. 2 for job creation among large metro areas by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,” Beck adds. Last year, Utah was named the No. 1 state for business by Forbes magazine for the third consecutive year, and Salt Lake one of the magazine’s top cities.

salt lake olympics

Photo courtesy George and Dolores Dore Eccles Theater

Salt Lake City Shines

Salt Lake’s downtown Arts District has blossomed in the 15 years since the Games and that includes the Natural History Museum of Utah near the University of Utah, The Leonardo Museum which was able to attract the touring Mummies exhibit, the elaborate City Creek Mall and the newly opened Eccles Theater for live Broadway touring performances like Hamilton and Kinky Boots.

An expanded TRAX light rail transportation system effortlessly connects visitors from the Salt Lake International Airport to downtown hotels, as well as routes as north as Ogden. In addition, venues like Soldier Hollow and the Utah Olympic Park continue to be hubs for recreation and world-class events. In fact, Soldier Hollow recently wrapped the 2017 Nordic Junior World Championships. Some would say that Utah is the only viable candidate for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

salt lake olympics

(U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres) (Released)

U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres

If the USOC chooses Salt Lake as the U.S. pick, they would need a bid budget of $25 million to $30 million to compete against international cities. They would have to also hope that Los Angeles doesn’t get the bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics. The last time the U.S. held the Summer Games was in Atlanta in 1996 so it’s a real possibility.

In addition to Salt Lake City, Reno-Lake Tahoe, Denver and Bozeman, Mont., might also vie for the Winter Games’s bid. But let’s be honest; Salt Lake City is the best equipped and most accessible option to welcome the world again.

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