Krolicki leading charge to bring Winter Olympics to Nevada

STATELINE – Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki looks over lush forest toward the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe and imagines a day nine years and eight months from now when a worldwide television audience exceeding 2 billion will view this scene during the Winter Olympics.

"This is about hosting the world to one of the greatest spectacles of sport and competition and leaving a legacy and infrastructure that will last generations," said Krolicki, who has chaired the private Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition for the past six years.

"Imagine Lake Tahoe being in almost every picture? They can see for themselves what we have to offer."

But the motivation for seeking the Games in 2022 is more than grabbing some attention and maybe gaining some new sports facilities, or even reliving Tahoe’s golden days when it was the site the 1960 Winter Games. He and other supporters see it as a way to revitalize the region’s foundering economy.

As director of the state’s tourism and economic development commissions, Krolicki knows that as many as 35,000 people were put to work at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. He also knows that Utah’s capital city has experienced a tourism industry boom since those Games, even amid a deep recession, and that the city made a $100 million profit hosting the 2002 Olympics.

The Reno-Tahoe area could use the economic boost. Tourism has declined so much over the last decade that Reno now is only the 14th largest gaming city in the nation. Unemployment is 11.4 percent, compared with the national rate of 8.1 percent. And Lake Tahoe casinos haven’t seen revenue growth since the 1990s.

Now is the time to "rebrand" the region as one of the best places in the world for winter sports for decades to come, Krolicki says.

"Before the Olympics, Salt Lake City was not a well-known city globally," he said. "It is now."

RENO AS HOST CITY

Reno has failed in six attempts to win a Winter Olympics. But Krolicki is confident that with the help of its California partners, the Biggest Little City in the World will host at least some of the events in a Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics.

"I’d say our chances are 50-50," he said.

He told a national ski writers convention in March that Sacramento, Calif., also could host events, including figure skating and ice hockey, because the city has reached a tentative agreement to build a new $391 million arena for the Sacramento Kings basketball team.

"The host city will be Reno," said Krolicki, who lives with his family close to the Heavenly Ski Resort on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. "Current Olympic rules mandate a city be part of the bid. Reno would be that entry. It is the entire region that will host the Games, but Reno will physically host much of the infrastructure of the Games."

Mackay Stadium on the University of Nevada, Reno campus, could be the site of the opening ceremonies. But its capacity, 33,391, would have to be increased for the Olympics.

Andy Wirth, interim chairman of the Lake Tahoe Winter Games Exploratory Committee, said it is too early to speculate on which city will host the Olympics. He won’t guess the area’s chance of success.

"It is inappropriate to suggest what city will be the host city," said Wirth, president of the Squaw Valley Ski Holdings LLC, which operates the Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts on the California side of Lake Tahoe.

The U.S. Olympic Organizing Committee completed an agreement May 24 with the International Olympics Committee over revenue sharing. But it has not yet even announced whether it will take bids from the American city for the 2022 Games.

Wirth does not expect that decision to come for at least six months.

The organizing committee this time could decide against making a bid for the 2022 Games and instead put its efforts on attracting the 2024 Summer Olympics.

Reno is 42 miles from Squaw Valley, which hosted the Winter Olympics in 1960. Sacramento is 96 miles away.

For now, the exploratory committee is looking at what the best sites would be for a potential 99 competitive events.

Krolicki said it is likely that buses or another form of transportation would carry all visitors to the Games; one of the committee’s chief charges will be to prevent any environmental damage to Lake Tahoe.

Tracks for the bobsled, luge and ski jumping events all must be built if the Olympics are to return to Lake Tahoe 62 years after the Squaw Valley Games.

A TEAM APPROACH

Krolicki believes the region’s chances of winning the Games improved in April when he and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced formation of the Lake Tahoe Winter Games Exploratory Committee.

The new committee will include members from his committee, the California Winter Games Committee and the Bay Area Sports Organizing Committee.

"We needed to bring in the muscle of California," Krolicki said. "The joint bidding potential of California and Nevada centered around Lake Tahoe is a profoundly compelling story."

Preparing a bid could cost as much as $5 million, funds that would be raised from donations. The Nevada Legislature no longer provides any funds to Krolicki’s committee. Before 2009, it had allocated $125,000 a year toward a Reno-Tahoe Olympics effort.

If it does accept bids, then the U.S. Olympics Organizing Committee would announce its choice for the American bid city in September to November 2013. The winning city wouldn’t be picked by the International Olympics Committee until summer of 2015.

Denver, Salt Lake City and Bozeman, Mont., also have announced an interest in hosting the Winter Olympics. Munich could be their biggest international challenger. There has been speculation that a European city would be favored for 2022 because of the failure of Munich and Annecy, France, to win the 2018 Games.

TAHOE’S GOLDEN PAST

Bill Briner, 85, of Tahoe City, Calif., intends to photograph the 2022 Olympics, just as he did as one of the official photographers at the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley.

"I’ll be there," he said. "This time with digital cameras. I don’t care if it is Reno-Tahoe or Sacramento-Tahoe. Tahoe has to be in it. Maybe calling it the Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics will be best?"

He remembers the Feb. 18, 1960, opening ceremonies that attracted an overflowing crowd to the 11,000-seat Blyth Arena for the $80 million Squaw Games.

A blizzard rushed in that morning, delaying the arrival of then-Vice President Richard Nixon and the beginning of festivities directed by Walt Disney.

"But then the sun came out and it was wonderful," Briner said.

The Squaw Games were the first televised Olympics. CBS paid $50,000 for those rights and Walter Cronkite was the lead broadcaster.

In contrast, NBC paid $2.38 billion to televise the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and this year’s Summer Games in London.

How Squaw won the Olympics over winter sports capital Innsbruck, Austria, was a miracle. At the time it won the bid in 1955, Squaw had a single chairlift and a 20-room motel, but was owned by Alex Cushing, a savvy New York lawyer.

After reading how Reno and Anchorage, Alaska, were competing for the Olympics, Cushing figured that he might as well try. He courted the votes of usually forgotten South American and Pacific Rim delegates, arguing the Olympics belonged to the world, not to European ski resorts and the wealthy. Squaw beat Innsbruck 32-30.

"It was the last of the truly amateur Olympics," said Cushing in a 1988 interview. "The athletes all lived under a common roof and ate in a common dining room. There was a friendly spirit. For 10 days, the whole world was there."

Those Games are credited with spawning the development of the ski industry around Lake Tahoe. Today the area has nearly two-dozen ski resorts, and is considered among the top skiing and snowboarding locations in the United States.

NO NEW TAXES SOUGHT

While Krolicki won’t sign any no-new-tax pledges, he is confident the Games will pay for themselves, largely through TV revenue, licensing rights, federal grants and ticket sales, and that no taxes will be required from residents.

News stories show that the Utah Legislature advanced the Salt Lake City Olympics Committee $59 million toward the cost of the 2002 Games. That money was returned by Chief Executive Officer Mitt Romney soon after the Games concluded. Romney is now the Republican candidate for U.S. president.

"It is a business and we would pursue the model that best achieves success, and that is Salt Lake City," Krolicki said. "We have to do it profitably."

As the state co-director for the Romney presidential campaign, Krolicki has "talked more about the Olympics than the campaign" with the Republican standard-bearer.

Krolicki said he won’t approach Romney about jumping on the Lake Tahoe bandwagon. But if Reno-Tahoe becomes the American bid city and Romney wins the presidency, he is certain the president would campaign for the region before the International Olympic Committee.

LAS VEGAS SPILLOVER

"What is good for part of Nevada is good for all of Nevada," Krolicki said. "We are one state and the whole state would profit from the Olympics."

He noted that many international travelers to the Salt Lake City Games took side trips to Las Vegas.

"Travelers might decide to stay in Las Vegas and come up to the Games, or take side trips. Las Vegas, Reno and Lake Tahoe all would benefit," Krolicki said.

Rossi Ralenkotter, president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, serves on the board of the Reno-Tahoe Winter Games Coalition.

"Hosting the Winter Olympic Games in the Reno-Tahoe area would benefit the entire state of Nevada, through inter­national media exposure and direct tourism," he said. "Many visitors would experience Las Vegas as part of their overall travel plans."

Growing up in St. Louis, Krolicki didn’t spend much time on winter sports. Now he calls himself an "intermediate skier."

"I find Olympic athletes extraordinary," Krolicki said. "As small children their parents get them up at 4 a.m. so they can get ice time and practice in obscurity for a decade-plus and then have one chance every four years for a couple of minutes to be best in the world."

Krolicki, 51, likely will be out of public office in 2022, but he vows to attend the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics.

The only question is: Where will those Games be held?

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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