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Reno-Tahoe Winter Games organizers bid for 2014

Susan Wood, Nevada Appeal News Service

Plans for the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Reno-Tahoe region have nudged a little closer to reality.

In March, the Nevada Commission on Sports — which formed the Reno Tahoe Winter Games Coalition — will unveil its http://www.reno2014.org Web site for Internet users to witness the progress of the quest.

“It’s going to be a tool for the general public to get updated on the bidding process,” said Jim Vanden Heuvel, coalition chief executive officer. “We can’t do this alone. We’re going to need the help of the whole region.”

Also within the next two months, the groups will pitch the Legislature on the benefits of bringing the international sporting event to the region.

The commission plans to invite Salt Lake City Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney to help make the case. Salt Lake City was the third U.S. city chosen to host the Winter Games in its 106-year-old history.

The regional commission also hired Dallas event-planning consultant Jack Kelly to help spearhead the effort and complete the feasibility study. It’s due by fall when the U.S. Olympic Committee takes bidders at its board meeting. The USOC makes its choice by 2007.

Ironically, Kelly — a big gun in Olympic sporting events — was a member of the U.S. Olympic Candidate Selection Committee at the time the region was last interested in hosting the games in 1994.

“The area is so ready. You have a sports-minded culture,” he said.

The president of Event Partners also touted the region’s 30,000 hotel rooms, easy access to ski and transportation venues and natural beauty as major selling points.

“If there’s a prettier place in North America, I haven’t seen it,” said Kelly, who visits the Lake Tahoe Basin once a month.

And like other host cities such as 1992’s Nagano, Japan, Kelly distinguishes Reno as an ideal spot given its several hundred thousand people living in close proximity to about 20 ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada.

Kelly outlined some hard numbers to respond to naysayers who doubt the region’s ability to build or use the massive facilities needed to pull off such an event.

“What I say to naysayers is: ‘People from all over the world can’t wait to go to the Olympic Games. How many people in the area are still proud of hosting the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley?'” he said.

He figured hosting the games costs $1.5 billion, but 80 percent of the funding comes from outside the area by means of sponsorships and television revenue.

“The real value of the games is that you get to accelerate major infrastructure projects,” Kelly said.

He also cited Salt Lake City funding youth and development programs with its $100 million net surplus from hosting the games as a major advantage to throwing out the red carpet to the world.

For starters, coalition organizers expect hosting the Olympics would require the building of a new arena on 44 acres outside Reno that’s estimated to cost $41 million. The structure would host hockey and ice-skating events.

They plan to use Tahoe ski resorts.

Organizers said they were more encouraged by their chances when San Francisco lost the USOC selection for the 2012 Summer Games to New York City because they believe the committee would be more apt to choose a Western location for 2014.

New York has some steep competition with Toronto, Rome, London, Madrid, Germany and Paris — the favorite pick among insiders.