November 7, 2000. Mark that date on your Sports Illustrated calendar: It's when King County residents will decide whether or not to put out the welcome mat for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.
The vote is technically binding only on county government, but the plebiscite will come early enough in the formal bid process for a loss to deliver a fatal blow to Seattle's chances. "Our final presentations wouldn't be until well after the vote is completed," says Clark Kokich, co-chair of the Seattle Bid Committee. "So, obviously if the vote were not positive we could withdraw. I don't think we'd have any other choice."
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Voter rejection of an Olympics isn't unprecedented. In 1972, Colorado residents nixed state funding for the proposed 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver. Seattle Olympics supporters have higher hopes: An April 1995 committee poll of registered voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties showed almost 75 percent support for the Games. However, a Seattle Times poll taken at the end of the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games showed around 63 percent support.
As events might be held at venues throughout the Puget Sound area, Kokich says the public vote might be expanded to include adjoining counties or even the entire state. "We need to open conversations with all of those jurisdictions and really try to figure out what is the appropriate jurisdiction for a vote," he says.
Kokich argues that, if properly run, the Olympics could make a profit, like the $200 million raised by the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, which was used to create an endowment for youth sports. "I wouldn't be involved in this if I thought it was going to take away from other priorities," he says.
Olympics backers should expect an organized opposition group. "There will be [one] soon," says Matthew Fox, a former aide to City Council member Charlie Chong and leader of a group that twice blocked funding measures for the proposed Seattle Commons park. Fox says he is already holding discussions with other Olympics opponents.
Since the Seattle Bid Committee is a registered nonprofit organization, a separate campaign committee would have to be formed by Olympics supporters.
Mayor Paul Schell and County Executive Ron Sims have been named honorary co-chairs of the Seattle Bid Committee, but the support of each jurisdiction has been limited to a contribution of $25,000 each to a feasibility study conducted by the Discovery Institute (the state of Washington and the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce's Sports and Events Council also provided funding).
Stephanie Bowman, Discovery Institute project director, says the study found the Puget Sound area fairly well stocked with Olympic-quality facilities. Still needed are sites for archery, equestrian, tennis, and rowing competitions. Also, the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center built for the Goodwill Games is adequate for water polo and synchronized swimming, but far too small to house the 10,000 spectators expected for major swimming and diving events.
The feasibility study didn't recommend that a public vote be taken, but recognized that one would probably be scheduled. "This is a community that has to vote on whether or not to open Pine Street," says Bowman.
Olympic Feasibility Study
Seattle,s competition for 2012: Pittsburgh