What if Baltimore had landed the Olympics?
Revenue, jobs were riding on area bid for 2012 Summer Games
Dan Knise is president and CEO of the Washington-Baltimore Regional 2012 Coalition. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / July 28, 2012)
The group hoped to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to the region — and with it, billions of dollars in revenue and tens of thousands of new jobs.
Baltimore would be the scene for soccer, gymnastics, triathlon, cycling and field hockey. The waters near the Naval Academy would be used for the sailing competition. The hills of Patapsco Valley State Park would challenge mountain bikers. University of Maryland dorms would provide a temporary home for athletes.
And, though the organizers had no way of knowing it then, they also might have given Michael Phelps home-field advantage in his final Olympics.
"The area had everything in the world to offer the International Olympic Committee," recalled John Moag Jr., former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority and a leader of the Washington-Baltimore 2012 Regional Coalition. "We all felt good about it."
But when the U.S. Olympic Committee picked its candidate in 2002, the region's bid lost to New York, which lost to London three years later, when the International Olympic Committee made its choice.
The rejection was not only a blow to local civic pride, but also an economic letdown.
"A lot of federal money is secured in the name of the Olympics," said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, an associate professor of tourism and sports management at George Washington University. "We missed out on federal transportation and beautification dollars. The University of Maryland missed out on money to improve its dorms. In the private sector, hotels and restaurants missed out on hospitality dollars."
Dan Knise, president and CEO of the coalition, said projects that likely would have received an Olympic-sized financial boost included Baltimore's proposed $2.2 billion Red Line light rail, a new Baltimore arena and upgrades at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the field hockey site.
"I think there would have been a lot of new things," Knise said.
Many cities have benefited from holding the Olympics. Once-dowdy East London is getting a makeover, with new pedestrian bridges and walkways. After the games, the media center will be converted into an office building and the athletes' village will become apartments and subsidized housing. An expanded railway system will be a boon to commuters.
In 2002, Salt Lake City greeted spectators with an expanded airport, upgraded highways and a new light rail system.
"The Olympics were good to the city and the region," said former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. "There's a sense of real joy and accomplishment. I don't think there's any question that it was good for civic pride, and that's going to have a lifetime impact."
But there can also be a downside.
Until Los Angeles showed the world how to turn a profit in 1984 by lining up scads of sponsors, holding the Olympics was often a red-ink affair. Denver walked away after securing the 1976 Winter Games when voters rejected a $5 million bond to pay for them. Montreal posted a loss of $1 billion on the 1976 Summer Games.
Without the U.S. Olympic Committee quietly forgiving as much as $50 million in debt, organizers of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta could not have claimed that they broke even. A post-Olympics economic analysis by Georgia Tech University showed that during the Games, sales were off in Atlanta shops and restaurants, traditional tourism dropped, air travel was down — and taxpayers shelled out millions.
That was not the expected scenario for the Baltimore-Washington region.
A 2000 economic impact study conducted by Richard Clinch of the University of Baltimore and Stephen Fuller of George Mason University projected that the Olympics would cost $2.04 billion to build and run, with a return of $5.32 billion in total economic impact — $6.72 billion in today's dollars. The lead-up to the Summer Games was expected to support the creation of nearly 70,000 jobs.
"But to make this work, we needed more of Maryland than just the Washington suburbs," Fuller recalled. "We needed Baltimore. We needed all the hotel rooms, all the venues and all of the attractions. It brought together two economies that weren't normally thought of together. I think it was a good marriage."