Should Philadelphia Go For The Olympic Gold In 2004? Imagine Marathoners Running Along The Ben Franklin Parkway?

Posted: July 25, 1992

As the 1992 Summer Olympics prepare to begin, showcasing Barcelona, why not think about Philadelphia's turn to host the games?

Stop and think. It is not as far-fetched as it sounds. What the city and the region do now may pave the way for the opportunity at holding the games here in 2004. If Atlanta can get chosen, Philadelphia certainly can!

Philadelphia already has many of the venues needed to host the games. There's Veterans Stadium, Franklin Field, Spectrum I and the new Spectrum II under construction - to name only a few.

Housing could be provided in universities such as Penn, Temple and Villanova. Our town has a rich sports tradition including the Army-Navy Game, Penn Relays, CoreStates Cycling Championships and Dad Vail Regatta - not to mention Rocky scaling the Art Museum steps. Can't you see the marathoners running along the Ben Franklin Parkway?

Once the Convention Center opens in 1993, more hotel rooms will be built, increasing the city's capacity for the more than 100,000 who would attend the games.

Barcelona wisely used existing sporting venues as much as possible, building new facilities with an eye toward their reuse into needed public functions, filling in neglected spaces around the city for use as Olympic sites.

For example, Barcelona took an old industrial area along the waterfront and cleaned it up to create the Olympic village. Philadelphia could do the same thing.

Here, there are many such areas ripe for redevelopment. The Navy Yard, 30th Street Station railyards, Schuylkill River Park (for rowing events), Penns Landing and the North Philadelphia Station area.

The most promising prospect, however, is the Navy Yard and the redevelopment potential its closure will bring. Just as Barcelona has done in reclaiming its industrial waterfront, I can envision an Olympic sports center and possible Olympic village built on part of the site. (After the Games, it could be used as a sports medicine and training center.) A new baseball stadium could also be built there.

The Navy Yard site is already well served by public transit and additional improvements such as extending the Broad Street Subway would not be difficult. It is also close to the airport and could be served by an airport water shuttle.

What better way to erase Philadelphia's image as being in the shadow of New York and a "second city." Barcelona suffered neglect during the reign of Francisco Franco and is using the Olympics as a means to redevelop and upgrade itself.

In the process of renewing itself for the Olympics, Barcelona hopes to create a tangible symbol to the world watching the events on television that it has come back and is a viable city for business and tourists.

This kind of scenario can be played out in Philadelphia. We need a means to re-energize our self-esteem and in the process show a larger global audience the advantages of the city for economic development and tourism.

Alas, the Bicentennial boondoggle serves to remind us how difficult it is for Philadelphians to rally around an event as wide-ranging as this. The ''attytood" problem always seems to get in the way. Certainly there would be naysayers who would argue that we could never come up with the money to pay for the games.

Granted, the cost to put on an Olympics is olympian - Barcelona will spend $8 billion. Where would such money come from? Certainly not from already tapped-out governmental sources here.

Barcelona is leveraging its costs by getting capital from outside sources to pay for - and hopefully solve - the city's infrastructure problems. Here, private sector sponsorship would pay for new facilities and the upgrading of existing ones.

The games can pay for themselves when you factor in all the merchandising income. Moreover, television revenues also generate a substantial amount. Without using tax dollars in 1984 Los Angeles was able to make a profit when it hosted the games.

The logistics for planning and submitting a bid to host the Olympics would be complex and by no means guaranteed to result in success.

But isn't it time for Philadelphia to go for the gold? To rally around a goal that would boost our economy and would in the process re-establish our image as a city with a historic past - and a bright future?

Sports entrepreneurs such as the Snyder family that owns Spectacor could provide the drive to get the games here. After all, Spectacor is one of the world's leading sports facility management companies and is headquartered here. The business community could lend its support and sponsorship.

This is not to say that hosting an Olympics is a cure-all to all our urban and social ills. Look at what has happened this year to the hosts of the 1984 games, Sarajevo and Los Angeles. Yet giving the city an Olympic goal would be a chance to take all the talents of the region and make Philadelphia the envy of the nation once again.

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