Hard to believe that February will mark 15 years since Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee made its announcement in June 1995, and Utah has reaped the benefits ever since.
As UtahBusiness.com reports:
Nearly $2 billion was injected into the state during the next several years to prepare for the games. From airport renovations to massive highway improvements and mass transit developments, to the magnificent Olympic venues that still stand today, the nearly $2 billion investment was at that time the largest amount in Olympic history.
After the games, Utah felt an immediate economic impact. The state saw $4.8 billion in sales, $1.5 billion in earnings and 35,000 jobs, all of which added up to a $1.25 billion direct economic impact, according to the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget.
“Around the world, Utah was relatively unknown, and Salt Lake was relatively unknown,” Fraser Bullock, who served as COO of the Utah Winter Olympics, told UtahBusiness.com. “I would travel the world frequently before the games and say, ‘I’m from Utah,’ and in other countries, people would say, ‘Where is that?’ Many people hadn’t heard of Utah. After the games, when I say I’m from Utah or Salt Lake, they say, ‘Oh, Utah put on an amazing Olympic Games.’”
That Olympic spirit lives on. Today, Visit Salt Lake — the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau — encourages travelers to see several venues that still stand, including the Olympic Oval and Olympic Park. “You can skate on Olympic Ice, take a luge ride, or watch future Olympic athletes in training,” proclaims the organization’s website.
The Winter Games helped speed the development of light rail and commuter rail in the area and, quite literally, changed the culture in Salt Lake City. “You would not have seen anywhere near the level and quality of restaurants and night life in Salt Lake City before 2002 that you see now,” Olympic Coordinator Wayne McCormack told KPVI-TV, an NBC affiliate in Pocatello, Idaho.
The amount of winter sports activity in the area has jumped, too. “It was a 16-day infomercial for tourism, skiing and snowboarding,” Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, told UtahBusiness.com. “If you look at the year 2000, just before our games, we averaged 3.04 million skier days per year. And then, if you look at the five years post-Olympics, from 2000 to 2007, you see skier days at 3.72 million, which is up 22 percent. And then if you look at the 10-year period, entering 2012, you’re at 4.07 million, which is up 34 percent from the five years before the Olympics.”
During the 2015-16 winter season, the state tallied almost 4.5 million skier days, according to Ski Utah.
Organizers of the Salt Lake City games made significant efforts to ensure the impact of the Olympics would be felt for years and generations to come. Credit for that success goes in no small part to a $76 million endowment fund that created the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which today maintains the Olympic Oval and Olympic Park.
The U.S. Speedskating Association is headquartered at the Olympic Oval in Kearns and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association is headquartered in Park City.
“One of the biggest benefits of the Olympics was the legacy infrastructure that it left, which created ski jumps, the luge track, an ice sheet,” Rafferty told UtahBusiness.com. “Fifteen years later, we are now seeing athletes who were 8 years old when the games were here, and they’re calling their names [to compete]. A 14-year-old kid in Salt Lake, Ogden, Park City can learn to skeleton, Nordic jump or speedskate — it’s so unique. And it’s not just infrastructure that’s standing there, but all the programs that go along with it. It benefits our state and our recreation.”
Utah’s example has been mirrored in subsequent Winter Olympic cities, particularly Vancouver, B.C. One of the primary goals for organizers of the 2010 Games in Vancouver was to ensure the legacy of the venues. Perhaps nowhere in Vancouver is that best exemplified than at the Richmond Olympic Oval, site of the speed skating events and the official Olympics anti-doping lab.
The facility offers more than 150,000 square feet of activity space, including two Olympic-size ice rinks and six hardwood courts. “The warning we heard time and time again from the people who were involved in building and operating these Olympic venues was, ‘Don’t make the same mistake we made,’ which essentially was to build a venue for the Olympics and then worry about its legacy use afterward,” Ted Townsend, senior manager of corporate communications for the city of Richmond, B.C., told AthleticBusiness.com. “There are too many examples of facilities that have become white elephants, if not outright mothballs, after the Games.”