Eleven years after a joint Washington-Baltimore bid to host the Summer Olympics was snubbed, a group based in the nation’s capital announced Tuesday its interest in trying again. This time, the initiative doesn’t formally include Baltimore, though preliminary plans call for staging events in Maryland’s largest city, as well as Northern Virginia and the District.
The unveiling of DC 2024, a nonprofit organization formed to explore the city’s ability and interest in bringing the 2024 Summer Games to the region, comes roughly six months after Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, wrote a letter to the mayors of 35 cities, including Washington and Baltimore, gauging their interest in a potential bid.
Bob Sweeney, president of the Greater Washington Sports Alliance, which is leading the initiative, said he felt the nation’s capital enters the process as “a front-runner.”
“I think great cities honestly think great thoughts and think big-picture,” Sweeney said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
The Greater Washington Sports Alliance isn’t the same group that attempted to win the 2012 Summer Olympics, which went to London. It was formed in the wake of that effort to continue nurturing Washington’s international sporting profile. Among the events it has staged or had a hand in procuring, Sweeney said, are the Army-Navy football game at FedEx Field, the NCAA Frozen Four ice hockey championship at Verizon Center and the National Marathon.
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis publicly backed the bid Tuesday. Sweeney said he has also gotten supportive feedback from the office of Mayor Vincent Gray.
Although the International Olympic Committee won’t select the host of the 2024 Summer Games until 2017, Washington is fairly late in announcing its interest.
According to Blackmun, 10 cities signaled their interest by April, within two months of receiving the USOC’s letter. Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles and San Francisco are among those that have launched efforts to cultivate financial and political support.
The USOC is expected to decide by next year whether to submit a bid. If it proceeds, it will make a preliminary cut to two or three cities by December 2014 and will choose the city to put forward in 2015.
The costs of staging the Olympics are staggering.
In his February letter to the 35 U.S mayors, Blackmun said cities could expect an operating budget of $3 billion, which doesn’t include construction costs for venues, an athletes’ village or essential infrastructure that’s not already in place.
Sweeney said he projects the true expense at $4 billion to $6 billion.
“The cost is enormous but very doable,” he said, noting that it didn’t necessarily reflect “new dollars” but could include money already designated for capital improvements in the region.
Blackmun’s letter also cited specific requirements each prospective host city would have to meet. Among them, the provision of 45,000 hotel rooms, an Olympic Village to house 16,500 athletes, workspace for 15,000 journalists and an extensive public-transportation system.
The last Summer Games in the United States were in Atlanta in 1996. Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Games in 2002. And USOC officials feel the timing may be right to try again after being rebuffed in its last two attempts to host the Summer Games.
Pursuing a bid is expensive in itself. Ten years ago, Washington-Baltimore’s failed 2012 bid cost $10 million, and whatever city is selected by the USOC can expect to spend considerably more to compete on the international stage. The USOC is trying to lower the costs of domestic bids: There is no longer a $2.5 million bid fee, said Sweeney, who said his group will need to raise $3-5 million in the next two years, mostly from the private sector.
New York was beaten out by London for the 2012 Olympics. Those were the Games that a Washington-Baltimore bid, led by McLean businessman Dan Knise, sought to host. But the joint bid was culled in the USOC’s preliminary cut in 2002, along with Houston, in favor of finalists San Francisco and New York.
A subsequent effort by Chicago to win the 2016 Olympics ended with an embarrassing rejection in the first-round of voting among IOC members despite a personal pitch from President Obama. Those Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.
The USOC didn’t submit a candidate for the 2020 Games, which will be awarded next month to one of three finalists: Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.
With a population of 632,323, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Statistics, Washington ranks 24th among U.S. cities in term of population — considerably smaller than London and Beijing, which hosted the last two Summer Games.
But when cast as a region, the Washington area encompasses 4.4 million residents, boosting it to fifth in the nation behind greater New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami.
Sweeney said DC 2024 will cast its reach further still, to represent 7 million residents.
“This is a regional bid that involves two states and a major city,” Sweeney said. “We are maybe the only major world capital that has never hosted the Games. We really believe it would be our turn to shine.”