Is Detroit ready to host the 2024 Olympics? – Detroit Free Press
It’s probably an Olympic record we don’t want, and it’s not marked with any banner or highway sign.
But no other city in the world has made more Summer Olympic bids than Detroit â seven â and never landed the games.
The closest Detroit ever came was its 1963 proposal for the 1968 games, when it finished second to Mexico City. City leaders more or less stopped trying once the 1972 games went to Munich.
As I watched Boston’s $4.6-billion bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics collapse several weeks ago amid financial concerns, I started wondering if Detroit could ever get into physical condition for an eighth bid at Olympic glory.
Even the most fanatical Olympic dreamers concede Detroit on its own has zero chance of financing even a shoestring Olympics like that of London in 1948, only three years out from the end of World War II.
But we wouldn’t have to go it alone. Windsor is just across the river. Together, we could pull off a joint bid for a Budget Olympics using our natural amenities and existing sports venues and still shine as a first-class event.
It’s not that preposterous an idea, really.
Since Boston withdrew, there has been growing interest in proposals that emphasize cost efficiency and “fiscal responsibility” in contrast to the extravagance of recent games such as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, said to cost $51 billion.
Such a mentality shift could benefit Detroit-Windsor and other host city hopefuls whose strengths lie in geography and sports culture, not economic wherewithal. Who you are â and not how much you’re willing to spend (or lose) â might be more important now.
After all, our international corner already has much of what it needs to host, including Windsor’s new swimming facility.
More than a dream
Let’s be clear, no dignities or elected officials have actually called for Detroit to join the competition to host the 2024 Olympics.
Shortly before the city declared Chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2013, then-Mayor Dave Bing declined an invitation from the U.S. Olympic Committee for Detroit to bid on the 2024 games. (Detroit was one of 34 cities to get the invite.) It would cost Detroit $10 million to simply submit a bid, he said.
“With our rich history of hosting major events and Detroit’s prime location on an international border, we recognize that this makes Detroit an appealing candidate to potentially host the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics,” Bing said at the time. “Unfortunately, due to the timing and uncertainty of Detroit’s long-term financial stability, we must respectfully decline to participate.”
But it’s also more than a fanciful dream.
“For the most part, the infrastructure is already here,” said Greg McDuffee, chairman of Urban Land Institute Michigan. “If we’re serious about re-establishing our city as a preeminent global city â what is the acid test for that? It’s being awarded an Olympic games.”
Under one possible Detroit-Windsor scenario, the only major event venues needed to be built from scratch would be a canoe slalom course on Belle Isle, a cycling velodrome perhaps on the Windsor waterfront and an Olympic Stadium at the old state fairgrounds that could later become home for a professional soccer team.
There would be no need to dig an Olympics-ready swimming pool in Detroit, thanks to the new Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. Indeed, the biggest likely hurdles to a joint Detroit-Windsor Olympics would be marshaling the money and political will.
“From a technical perspective, there is no reason why Detroit couldn’t host a games. It actually has some natural advantages,” said Stefan Szymanski, a professor of sports management and economics at the University of Michigan who has researched the possibilities for a 21st-Century Detroit Olympics bid.
A Detroit-Windsor bid would spread costs and open the door to more financing sources. It also would offer the novelty of the first joint-nation bid and that may appeal to members of the International Olympic Committee, which ultimately votes the winner.
Various mayors of the two cities have floated this idea at least three times since 1978, although the concept never progressed to a formal cooperative bid proposal.
The head of Windsor’s tourism and marketing group said last week that he’s not aware of any recent talks for a joint Detroit-Windsor Olympic bid.
“But if Detroit would seriously go after bidding, we would certainly want to see how the city of Windsor would fit into that,” said Gordon Orr, CEO of Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island.
For Detroit, the Olympics have the potential to turbocharge the fledgling development momentum in greater downtown and be a coming-out of sorts for the city after bankruptcy and years of unflattering media attention. It also would mean thousands of new jobs, albeit temporary ones.
“The Olympics would mean more to us than just giving it to L.A. for a third time,” said Detroit resident Ian Studders, one of three organizers of Detroit’s 2013 bid to host the ESPN X-Games. (Those games ended up going to Austin, Texas.)
How it could work
The games could act as a stimulus for some proposed Detroit infrastructure projects, such as expanding the future M-1 Rail streetcar line beyond New Center. And they could solve the housing crunch at Wayne State University and boost the tight inventory of downtown-area apartments through later repurposing the Olympic Village that would need to be built for the 10,000-some visiting athletes.
The many existing stadiums and sports venues such as Ford Field and Comerica Park may obviate the need for significant new construction â avoiding expensive white elephant structures with no use after the closing ceremony. The planned 2017 demolition of Joe Louis Arena could be delayed until after the games.
Some facility renovations, expansions and all-new venues would undoubtedly be necessary to win the IOC vote and put on a quality Olympics experience. “You don’t want to shoehorn them into venues that are not appropriate or Olympics worthy, and you don’t want to cheapen or lessen the brand of the Olympics,” Orr said.
As a thought exercise, the Free Press devised a potential event and venue map showing how Detroit and Windsor might pull off a 2024 Summer Olympics. The map reflects some actual proposals from Detroit’s official bid for the 1968 Olympics, as well as guidance from Boston’s now-canceled plan for 2024.
â¢Â See graphic:Hosting the Olympics on a budget
This plan would require construction of an all-new Olympic Stadium in Detroit at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds for opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field events. This would be the same location as the city’s planned-but-never-built stadium for the 1968 Olympics.
Detroit’s stadium for 1968 would have been a triple-decked mega structure with seats for 110,000 people and possibly a monorail. It was designed as a possible new home after the games for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions.
“Completion of the stadium and the sports and recreation center is inevitable with or without the impetus of the 1968 Olympic Games,” declared one of many unfulfilled prophesies in Detroit’s bid proposal, submitted to the IOC in 1963.
A Budget Olympics stadium could be considerably smaller and seat about 60,000 â the same capacity as the main stadium at the 2016 Rio Olympics. It could incorporate a temporary section to be dismantled after the games. Detroit’s forthcoming M-1 Rail line could be extended to 8 Mile for transporting the athletes and visitors.
When the Olympics are over, this new stadium could lure a Major League Soccer team.
For the Olympic Village, one location could be the vacant acreage in Brush Park around the recently demolished Brewster-Douglass housing projects. When the games are over, the buildings could be new housing for Wayne State students and apartments for Detroiters.
Financing the games
Of course, a Detroit-Windsor Olympics wouldn’t lack logistical challenges.
One potential problem would be moving large numbers of athletes, games officials and spectators between two national borders in a secure and efficient manner. Szymanski, the U-M professor, suggests the solution of a temporary “Olympics zone” with special transit passes.
It’s also not clear whether the 40,000-some hotel rooms in southeast Michigan and 3,300 hotel and residence rooms in Windsor would be enough for all the visitors.
However, the biggest problem of all would likely be financing. A Detroit Olympics would likely require public and private financial support from across the region.
“It’s the people of the Midwest who would just love having an Olympics on their doorstep,” Szymanski said. “So in some sense, they have to share in the cost of it.”
There also is the danger of a big debt hangover from the Olympics that could seriously impair Detroit’s finances again, perhaps even lead to a second bankruptcy. It’s worth noting that the 2004 Summer Olympics is considered a contributing factor in Greece’s ongoing debt crisis.
Szymanski estimates that an initial budget for a no-frills Detroit Olympics could be around $4 billion. The cost for security alone at a modern Olympics typically exceeds $1 billion, he said.
The city of Los Angeles would spend a reported $4.1 billion and shoulder any cost overruns for the 2024 Summer Olympics under its proposal to the U.S. Olympic Committee to be Boston’s replacement. Los Angelenos have reasons for optimism; their city hosted two financially successful Olympic games in 1932 and 1984 and they could reuse the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for this third time.
Landing the games would also require winning the IOC vote â a goal Detroit failed to reach in the 20th Century. But Detroit today is a very different and less populated city than it was in 1966, the year of its last bid for what was the 1972 Summer Olympics.
“In some sense the most tragic thing about Detroit is also, from an Olympics perspective, its biggest advantage: that is being a city designed for 2 million with a population of only 700,000,” Szymanski said. “That means you’re not going to have massive congestion issues. Sadly, that’s a huge advantage.”
Contact JC Reindl: 313-222-6631 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JCReindl.
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