Audit gives Utah Olympic facilities high marks, but says they need a $40M upgrade to host Games again

Three legacy venues seen as critical to future bid.<br>

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) A skier performs at the grand opening of the expanded Spence Eccles Olympic Freestyle Pool at Utah Olympic Park, Saturday June 27, 2015. The Eccles family donated $1 million to kick off a $3 million fundraising campaign to expand the pool and replace four old wooden jumps with seven metal jumps that have different lift-off angles suited to the various Winter Olympic sports disciplines.

The Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation has successfully maintained and operated three venues from the 2002 Winter Games, say legislative auditors, who recommend investing nearly $40 million in public funds to upgrade them to prepare for another Olympic bid.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Skaters in the women's mass start, speed skating at the ISU World Cup, at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, Sunday November 22, 2015.

A day after state officials and business leaders established a formal committee to explore a bid for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Games, a legislative audit released Tuesday said “failure to bring assets up to current day standards and sports-specific technical requirements may have safety impacts, limit [the foundation’s] ability to host certain sporting events and may negatively impact a future Olympics bid.”

The auditors went on to recommend funding options to improve the assets as “essential for a future Olympic bid.“

Foundation President and CEO Colin Hilton was pleased by the audit’s findings that his nonprofit group had lived up to state expectations. “Our actions since [2002] speak volumes for what a well-crafted plan can produce.”

The audit suggested several avenues for annual state appropriations to accomplish capital improvement projects, noting that while the foundation has functioned well, it still operates at a $4 million annual deficit. That forces the foundation to dip into the $76 million endowment left by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to break even.

“If the fund is also used to subsidize depreciable capital improvement costs,” the audit added, “the fund would be depleted by 2028.”

That would be a shame, the audit implied, noting that the foundation has a financial sustainability plan that involves increasing public activities at the venues and also has actively explored alternate sources of raising funds, such as leasing part of the land around the Utah Olympic Park complex for lodging establishments that could be used by athletes and visitors.

Public participation in venue activities is increasing, the audit said. From 2013 to 2016, visitorship to the Olympic Park near Park City rose 12 percent. Visitation to the Utah Olympic Oval, used as an indoor speedskating site in Kearns, went up 42 percent. Moreover, the number of national and international competitions held at all of the venues jumped 50 percent.

“There are more Utah-based athletes winning Olympic medals than in previous years,” the audit added. “Utah’s continued promotion of its legacy will be essential if the Legislature decides to make another bid.”

Hilton appreciated the audit’s recognition of the challenge of striking a balance between creating “a powerful and meaningful Olympic legacy with the realities of the costs of doing so.”

Financial assistance to upgrade facilities is necessary, he said, “to ensure our well-used Olympic venues continue proper maintenance, repair and improvements.”

The audit urged the foundation to promote “a consistent system for tracking performance and publishing key measures to ensure greater transparency.”

Public funding for Utah’s Olympic venues would not be new.

Bucket List, Utah Olympic Park with Brett Prettyman

In 1989, voters approved a $59 million sales-tax diversion to build early versions of the oval, ski jumps and sliding tracks and to show the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee the sincerity of Utah’s interest in becoming the country’s winter sports capital — even if it didn’t know whether it would ever be awarded an Olympics, which it was in 1995.

At the time, bid leaders promised to repay the public investment with revenues from the Games. SLOC repaid the debt shortly after the Paralympics concluded the 2002 extravaganza.