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Salt Lake City Prepares For Winter Olympics - 2001-11-18

Salt Lake City is the largest city ever to host a Winter Olympics. The 2002 Olympic venues will span an area of approximately 200 kilometers. With less than three months before the Games start in February, the city is racing to complete its massive makeover in time to greet the nearly two-million people expected to attend the games. As the constant drone of drills and the loud pounding bangs from building sports arenas, constructing and re-constructing roads and buildings slowly fades, a remodeled version of the city is beginning to emerge. Local businesses and citizens are also preparing themselves to be polite and attentive hosts in order to welcome the world at the 2002 Winter Olympics. The Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee gave its thousands of volunteers an instruction manual titled, "Team 2002 in Training." It's 150 pages long and filled with tips like 'no hugging,' 'no bad body odor,' and 'no yawning.' Amy Rich, Director of Olympic Involvement for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has been preparing local businesses.

"In talking to Atlanta and folks from Sydney and Nagano, there was kind of this myth of the Olympic economic boom," she says. "That there was going to be this huge economic boom and the business community was going to make a million dollars and we could all retire. Some of us may really benefit economically, and some of us may not. We are not exactly sure what is going to happen."

But Mary Crafts, owner of the catering company, Culinary Craft, has already had a taste of what's going to happen. She is providing catering services to Sports Illustrated magazine, The International Olympic Committee or IOC, and to Jet Set Sports travel agency. She says she will do more business during the games than she normally does in over a year. But, even so, the terrorist attacks on September 11 have cut into her Olympics business. "It's this huge snowball coming down a mountain that we cannot stop. All of them reduced their numbers," she says. "All of them reduced their budgets. The only one who did not was the IOC because those people have to come. Whereas, for example, with Jet Set Sports, probably half of their people decided not to come."

The family that owns Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City does not have to worry about cancellations. Little America is the official host hotel for the IOC.

"We will have right around 1700 [guests] at the Little America hotel," says Mark Erikson, Corporate Director for Sales and Marketing at the Little America and Grand America hotels. "And that's on the basis of every room is committed to the IOC and because we will be a secure venue for the Olympics. Everything to do with the Olympics will take here at the official headquarters hotel." He says that both hotels have been booked since Salt Lake City was awarded the games in 1996. Since then, Mr. Erikson says they've been preparing for the security issues, the daily press conferences, and the numerous banquets that will take place constantly during the games.

At The Market Street Grill, a restaurant in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City, co-owner Mark Gini isn't worried about being prepared for all the extra people during the Olympics - in spite of the estimated 60,000 visitors expected to flood the downtown area for events like figure skating and the opening and closing ceremonies. He says the restaurant's only major change is to extend its hours of operation for the 17 days of the Games. "We are not going to raise prices. We will have menus in foreign languages. It's pretty much business as usual," he says. " We are a convention city. We are used to large groups of people. It's not going to be as difficult as what people perceive it to be." Feeding thousands of Olympic visitors is not the only thing Mr. Gini is confident about. He also serves as Chairman of the Salt Lake Valley Health department.

"From a bioterrorism standpoint we are very well equipped to deal with whatever possibly could take place. This is going to be one of the safest places on the planet with the amount of law enforcement and resources that are going to be put into keeping the games safe," says Mr. Gini. The $200 million security effort is being directed at every imaginable possibility, including protecting dams and water treatment facilities and Mr. Gini says biological warfare testing facilities will be open 24 hours a day.

For the past several years, Salt Lake City has devoted itself to preparing for the 2002 Winder Olympic Games. It got a little bit tougher after the events of September 11, when the city had to re-think security plans and a potential decrease in the amount of visitors expected to attend. But the city is forging ahead to quickly finish the preparations for the games and the job is almost done.