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Utah Hopes Sports Venues Will Attract Visitors After Olympics - 2002-02-17

After the Winter Olympics are finished, Salt Lake City will be left with what the city officials say are some of the finest sporting venues in the world. Officials hope the facilities will continue to bring visitors and revenue for years to come.

It cost $320 million to develop venues for the Salt Lake City Olympics, $60 million of it from the state of Utah. Local officials hope to earn that money back, and more.

Jeff Robbins is president of Utah Sports Commission, which works to bring athletic events to the state. "This June, in 2002," he said, "we have a Far West soccer regional championship that will bring in $15 to $20 million in economic impact, a super-cross event that will be held where the [Olympic] opening ceremonies were held, and that will be in April. We have a junior olympic Volleyball championship in July, a North American Ironman [triathlon] in June, and also a Tae-kwon-do championship in July.

Mr. Robbins says sport is $350 billion business in the United States, and $1.6 billion of the total goes to Utah. "We hope to have that go up substantially over the next five years," he continued. "The surveys that we see indicate that as people come and visit Utah, stay in Utah and get a chance to experience Utah, over 65 percent of those people come back to visit Utah again."

The 10 competitive venues for the Olympic games will later offer skiing and skating for visitors, providing a boost to tourism, which now brings $4 billion a year to the state. The Olympic sites include venues for ski jump, luge and bobsled at Park City and the speed-skating arena in nearby Kearns. The Olympic athletes' village will be used for student housing by the University of Utah.

The venues will also be used by youngsters from poor communities who have little access to sports facilities now. Olympic Aid, a children's charity begun by Olympic athletes, will organize the programs.

Rondo Fehlberg, executive director of Olympic Aid USA, is excited about the Olympic legacy. He said, "To have access to these extraordinary world-class venues gives these kids, who really haven't had much hope or much to dream for, a new set of role models, and a new set of hopes and dreams. And can you imagine a kid who has been thinking that maybe a 'biker' is the ultimate role model, now he gets to be with Nikki Stone up at the Olympic sports park. She's one of our tireless volunteers for Olympic Aid, and she's teaching them how to do aerials."

The charity official says lessons from Nikki Stone, who won the gold medal in freestyle skiing at the Nagano Olympics, can help change the lives of local youngsters.

People in Utah boast that their state has the "greatest snow on earth." Now they say it has sporting venues to match. They hope to get that message out and attract athletes, and revenue, to Utah.