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Winter Olympics in Oregon? Why or why not?

While watching the Olympics the past few weeks from relatively balmy Sochi, one might wonder: Why not here? Wouldn’t Oregon make an excellent winter Olympics host?

Remember, back in the 1960s, Portland fashioned a strong effort to land the 1968 Summer Olympics that eventually went to Mexico City.

It’s easy to visualize: Portland could essentially be the host city. The big audience events — hockey, figure skating, ice skating — could be held at the Moda Center. The old Memorial Coliseum could also be used, say, for speed skating and curling.

The skiing and other outdoor events could be split between the Bend area and Mount Hood, giving the Olympics a true Oregon Cascades aura.

Can you imagine? The world, literally, would be coming to Oregon.

The opening/closing ceremonies would be an issue. The now-Providence Park (home of the Timbers) is likely too small for such an event. Autzen Stadium in Eugene is too far from a potential Olympic Village in this imagined Portland-based epicenter.

But, the Portland metro area has long been targeted for an outdoor stadium worthy of luring the A’s out of Oakland, or Rays out of Tampa. Such a facility will someday be built in the region. An Olympic designation may hasten that.

Whether the investment would be worth it, of course, is the key element. The Vancouver Olympics in 2010 cost about $7 billion. A quick Web study indicates that most experts think it was indeed worth it. For one, a ton of infrastructure was built, with the large majority of the expense ($12-to-$1) from federal government sources compared to local taxpayers. Our federal system wouldn’t go that far, but creative funding options exist.

The recently completed Russian games carried a hefty price tag — Web estimates are ranging from $30 to $50 billion. Again, a great deal of infrastructure was built that may turn Sochi into a wintertime tourist mecca (it already was a summertime one). But there also are disturbing aspects left behind such as the gigantic Fisht Stadium that was built to stage the opening and closing of the Olympics, but had no other apparent purpose. What will its role be going forward?

Before any American city — including Portland — considers weighing in on hosting an Olympics, the international Olympic community is going to have to have a gut check and make some strong fiscal decisions about controlling costs. Otherwise, cities, states and nations may incur way too much debt for the privilege of bringing global athletes together.

There is nothing more American than corporate sponsorships. A winter Olympics in Oregon would seem a great vehicle for Nike, Oregon’s most visible corporate power, to expand its winter apparel appeal. Maybe Nike could take a lead role, along with Portland and state officials, on bringing the winter Olympics to Oregon.

Should we be able to gain a handle on the actual costs, give Oregon 12 or 16 years; we think it could be done, and done well. Whether it should be, whether the investment would make sense, is harder to determine — but it’s something that should be studied.



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