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Visionary: London Olympics could have been Seattle’s instead

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.

About the Author

Josh Kerns

Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He covers everything from May Day riots in Seattle to the latest Boeing news. Email Josh at jkerns@kiroradio.com

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