When the London Olympics kick off next week, the world will be watching, but most won't be wondering "what if?" like Seattle businessman Bob Walsh. The promoter who helped bring the Goodwill Games to town in 1990 says Seattle could and should have been the one hosting the Olympic games.
"We had great contacts throughout Europe and Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union and other parts of the world (thanks to the Goodwill Games) and we got enough votes to bring it here," Walsh says.
Walsh and a group of local leaders worked hard 14 years ago to drum up backing for a local bid. He had close ties to Dick Schultz, who headed the U.S. Olympic Committee. Then-mayor Paul Schell was all for it. After successfully staging several NCAA Final Fours along with the Goodwill Games, he had seemingly enough momentum to make it a reality. But much like the current-day fight over efforts to build a new Seattle arena, financial fears took center stage.
The USOC started requiring cities to guarantee against any cost overruns. Coupled with public opinion polls showing strong opposition because of costs and the potential headaches of tearing up the area to build a collection of new sports facilities and other infrastructure, the Seattle City Council stopped the effort in its tracks.
"An ignorant city council wrote a letter to the head of USOC and said, 'We don't want the Olympics here,' Walsh says.
Critics, including Seattle city councilman Nick Licata, point to the massive cost overruns that plagued Atlanta, Montreal, and many other Olympic games.
Walsh argues the Puget Sound region had more than enough experience and expertise to pull off a wildly successful Olympics that would continue to bear fruit today.
"It's disappointing for me, for the people of Seattle, because I'm one of those believers for economic development, for visibility, for so many different things that an event like that brings. It's extremely important."
Walsh argues the city lost out on more than just the Olympics. He says Seattle has fallen out of favor with national and international events and associations, and points in comparison to cities like Indianapolis that have put concerted efforts into massive new sports facilities and efforts, drawing Super Bowls, national championships and Final Fours in the process.
Fourteen years later, the visionary says he's gotten over it. But it still stings to think instead of seeing Big Ben on TV for two solid weeks, it could have been the Space Needle.
"It's my home and I love it here, but I'm sorry to say that it's not a very progressive city, that it doesn't have a lot of unity, that it doesn't have a lot of vision within the city government, if any. It's too bad because we'd be an incredible destination point for these events," he says.
On the bright side for local sports fans, considering the cost of the London Games has skyrocketed an estimated $10 billion over its original budget, $200 million in tax payer backed bonds for a new arena seems like a steal.
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