Greg Jayne: Seattle an Olympic city?
Greg Jayne: Commentary
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Why not Seattle?
Seattle has moxie. It has verve. It has a cosmopolitan panache and more than 3.5 million people in the metropolitan area.
So, why not Seattle? Why couldn't the largest city in the Northwest host an Olympic Games? Seattle already has a Goodwill Games on its résumé, and it doesn't get any more gamy than that, does it? The Olympics could be the next step in the city's evolution.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, you see, is trolling for cities to bid on the 2024 Summer Games. Officials sent letters to the mayors of 35 major American cities, with Seattle and Portland ranking among the privileged.
All a metropolis would need is 45,000 hotel rooms, a work force of 200,000 people, and billions upon billions of dollars for construction and operation of the Games.
OK, so the billions of dollars might be a sticking point, but why not Seattle? Why couldn't The Emerald City welcome the world in 11 years?
"If you're not interested in having the Olympics in your hometown, you're small potatoes," said Ralph Morton, executive director of the Seattle Sports Commission.
That one made me laugh. Because, while he didn't mean to, Morton succinctly summed up the difference between Seattle and Portland.
Seattle is big potatoes. It built a dome in the early 1970s, then landed an NFL team and a Major League Baseball team. When the Kingdome outlived its usefulness, the city built Safeco Field — at the time the most expensive stadium ever constructed in North America. When the Seahawks were on the verge of moving to Southern California, Seattle found a local buyer for the franchise and built the team a shiny new stadium.
And just this year, when the prospect of the NBA returning to Seattle reared its head, the city and King County put together a deal for a new arena.
Seattle is the city that spawned Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks and Nirvana. It's a land of innovation and big thinking.
Portland is the city that wants to stay weird.
Portland once had big dreams. In the early 1960s, city leaders put together a proposal to bid on the 1968 Summer Games, which eventually landed in Mexico City. They were planning on making a pitch for the 1972 Games, but when voters rejected a stadium proposal for a second time, the vision died.
Of course, that left more room in the public consciousness for food carts and naked bicycling, so at least Portland has that going for it.
But what about Seattle and this Olympic thing?
"We aspire to be a world-class destination," Morton said. "Having the Olympics sets you apart from the rest of the country."
Facility-wise, the Puget Sound area would be off to a good start. There's a new basketball arena going up, there's KeyArena, there's the Tacoma Dome and the ShoWare Center in Kent and the Comcast Arena at Everett. There's even a world-class golf course at Chambers Bay near Tacoma — because the Olympics can't find room for wrestling but they feel the need to be another PGA Tour stop.
Of course, there's still the matter of building an 80,000-seat stadium somewhere in Seattle, but what's another billion dollars or so?
"A lot of facilities are done as temporary, modular facilities," Morton said. "The question is, are the vast majority of the things you're going to do going to be a benefit to the city for another 50 years? If not, then you probably shouldn't be bidding on the Olympics.
"A lot of demands of an Olympics is that a city needs to continue to evolve into something it's not yet. Right now, it's a twinkle in my eye; it's a grand thought."
Bill Gates? Jeff Bezos? Howard Schultz? Kurt Cobain? They once had a grand thought or two, and they turned them into something great.
So why not the Olympics for Seattle?