A Bad Idea of Olympic Proportions

About ten years ago, Baltimore-Washington area businesses and politicians had what they thought was a brilliant idea: “Let’s bid for the 2012 Olympics!” Two separate bids, one for Baltimore, one for Washington, became amalgamated into a “Washington 2012” bid that ultimately lost out in the U.S. bid city selection process to New York’s bid.

Well apparently for some absent-minded business leaders, the dream has never died, and it’s been stoked by Olympic fever from this year’s 2012 Olympic Games in London:

The Olympic flame may not be extinguished along the Chesapeake Bay. 

A key organizer of the region’s unsuccessful bid for the 2012 Summer Games is gauging interest in making a run at the 2024 Games. Dan Knise, president and CEO of the Washington-Baltimore 2012 Regional Coalition, believes “there’s a little bit of a spark” in the region for another try. 

“There have been some informal discussions with people. The energy the Olympics create, the optimism it creates, I feel that again. I’m optimistic,” said Knise, who was in London with his family to watch the Games but also hoped to “take the temperature” of Olympic decision-makers. 

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Several businessmen involved in the 2012 bid and local political figures supported the idea of another bid by the region, though none had spoken to Knise.  

“I think it’s worth exploring,” saidM.J. “Jay” Brodie, who retired Friday as president of Baltimore Development Corp.and was involved in the 2012 bid. “It isn’t inexpensive. It requires certain dollars and people’s time. It can’t just be done with government. There has to be major public and private contributions to make it happen.”  

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie-Rawlings Blake said in a statement: “It would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the region. And we would do a phenomenal job hosting the world elite athletes and fans from around the world.”  

John Moag Jr., former chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said all the things that made the region attractive in 2012 remain, including having “the largest sports infrastructure in a 40-mile radius.”

Go read the whole thing…As usual the chattering classes are the people who think that this is a good idea. I’m willing to bet that if you ask the average Marylander, they probably would also think that it is a good idea. Once you drill down however, it doesn’t take a genius to see how bad of an idea hosting the Olympics would truly be for Maryland.

The cost of hosting the Olympics is an Olympian task in and of itself. Even to be accepted as a  candidate city by the International Olympic Committee, bids have to demonstrate a significant investment commitment both within the private sector but also by governments at the national and local level. A Baltimore-Washington bid would require a significant commitment from both the Federal Government as well as from the Maryland and Virginia state governments, as well as local governments from Cecil County to Richmond, with every county in between. A Baltimore-Washington bid would commit the federal state and local governments to significant operating and capital outlays for the next twelve years. And that’s to say nothing of the private sector commitment that would be needed from Maryland businesses, many of whom are loath to make long-term commitments to even staying in the state for the next few years.

The cost of hosting the games goes far beyond a commitment to the bid, however. John Moag points out that Maryland has “the largest sports infrastructure in a 40-mile radius.” That may be true. However, the infrastructure that is required to host an Olympics is massive. We would be talking about an expansion of BWI, expansion of the Light Rail, Metro, and MTA Bus systems, road resurfacing and reconstruction, venue construction for other, non-existent venues. This would significantly increase capital spending projects over the course of the next twelve years at the expense of other, necessary capital projects.

Tax revenue, particularly sales tax revenue, would almost certainly go down in an Olympic scenario. While there would be an increase in revenue in the area of hotel taxes, the local economy would almost cease to exist thanks to gridlock on the city streets and the near necessity for local businesses to shut down during the games. It would be nearly impossible (particularly with the current Baltimore-Washington area traffic) for average area residents to get to work. Local businesses, particularly in Baltimore City, would find it nearly impossible for them to conduct their average business due to the inability for regular customers to patronize their business. Hosting the Olympics would have a crippling effect on local commerce and work for middle and working class Marylanders.

Imagine the security operation of a Baltimore-Washington Olympic bid. Security officials remain steadily on high alert in this corridor thanks to the presence of the national capital and the national security infrastructure. You don’t have to look very far to note that terrorists find Olympic events a tantalizing target, doubly so in the capital of the free world. One can only imagine the cost and the intrusiveness of the security apparatus that would be put into place if an Olympics were to be held in this area.

Before you go forward thinking about the Olympics, how about going backwards and thinking about the experience in dealing with past events? What about the experience of the Baltimore Grand Prix? Baltimore City made a significant investment and commitment to the private group that was organizing the Grand Prix, and that group fell through both on its commitment to the race and its commitment to tax payments that were owed to the city. Why would we expect that an Olympic Bid would be operated any more efficiently?

Finally, there’s the issue of Maryland’s economic climate. Maryland is hemorrhaging jobs, people, and capital thanks to the reckless spending policies of Governor Martin O’Malley and the Maryland Democratic establishment. As we have noted at Red Maryland time and time and time again, we continue to see a drastic increase in discretionary spending, and huge increase in taxes on businesses and individuals, and a diminution in the amount of tax revenue collected thanks to O’Malley’s policies. Middle and working class Marylanders are suffering thanks to the policies that have been enacted in the last five years. Why in the world would we be even considering the outlay of the necessary financial and political capital required in order to undertake an Olympic bid when the people of our area are suffering? Are business and political leaders in Maryland so isolated from the plight of the people of this area that they would put Olympic dreams ahead of the American dream?

As it relates to a Baltimore-Washington Olympic bid, the negative far outweigh the positives of any such idea. The last thing that state business and political leaders should be concerned with is a two-week sporting event to be held twelve-years in the future, especially when such an undertaking would come at the expense of the immediate and near-future of our state’s residents, businesses, and political economy. A Baltimore-Washington Olympic bid would be a bad idea of Olympic proportions…

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