Utah Olympic exploratory committee plans to ask the Legislature for $15 million to secure more prestigious events

Olympic officials also hope to start narrowing down list of potential local venues by end of 2019.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Acrobats slide down long pieces of material onto the stage at the Olympic Medals Plaza during kicking off the first night of activities in downtown Salt Lake City Feb. 9, 2002. The first medalists of the 2002 Olympics received their medals and the Dave Mathews Band performed.

Six weeks after Salt Lake City became the United States Olympic Committee’s choice for a future Olympic Winter Games bid, local Olympic committees gathered for the first time in 2019 to be briefed on where the process for the city’s Olympic hopes goes from here. And with the 2019 FIS World Championship events to take place at some of Utah’s most notable ski resorts starting this weekend, the focus was on further expanding Salt Lake City and Utah’s Olympic reach worldwide.

Former Utah Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, part of the Salt Lake Olympic Exploratory Committee, said they will be seeking as much as $15 million in funds from the Utah Legislature this session that could help bring more world-class sporting events to resorts and towns across the state. Niederhauser said as of now, he’s not sure how much money the Legislature will be able to appropriate.

“At the end of the day, we’re not sure what we’ll get out of the Legislature, whether we’ll get it incrementally, whether we’ll get it in one chunk,” he said. “That’s yet to be determined.”

The funds, which would go through the Utah Sports Commission, will be used over the next 10 to 12 years to help the state land more high-profile events. The FIS world championships for snowboarding, freestyle and freeskiing, which will be showcased at Solitude, Deer Valley and Park City Mountain resorts respectively, were awarded to Utah back in 2014. In another three weeks, the IBU biathlon World Cup makes a stop at Soldier Hollow in Midway, too.

“We feel like, as evidenced now, there’s more and more interest in doing more,” said Jeff Robbins, co-chair of the exploratory committee and president of the Utah Sports Commission. “People say Utah is America’s choice. We’re actually getting more and more requests to do things.”

However much money is eventually awarded by the Legislature will be a bonus, Robbins said, allowing the sports commission to go after major events that maybe otherwise would’ve been out of reach before. The $15 million sought comes after the Utah Legislature awarded $40 million a year ago for various Olympic venue upgrades over the next decade.

USOC officials are scheduled to travel to Utah next week during the FIS world championships to meet with local Olympic officials to discuss what steps Salt Lake City and Utah need to take in this part of the process. USOC CEO Sarah Hirshland, board chair Susanne Lyons and Christopher Sullivan, managing director of bids and protocol, are expected to be in attendance.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee chief operating officer Fraser Bullock discusses the news that U.S. Olympics Committee chose Salt Lake City over Denver to bid for a future Winter Olympics, possibly 2030, as they gather at City Hall on Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, after the decision.

Fraser Bullock, co-chair of the exploratory committee and former chief operating officer of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, said the next big task facing the committee is preparing for venue-use agreements around the state, merely because of the number of added disciplines in the Winter Games over recent cycles. That will undoubtedly expand the list of potential venues.

“We really need to narrow that and finalize that and nail down,” Bullock explained.

That work will continue over the next six months, Bullock said. Asked if any venue-use agreements might be in place by the end of 2019, Bullock said, “Possibly.”

Bullock also confirmed that the Olympic Village, should the Games return to Salt Lake in 2030 or beyond, will be back on the campus of the University of Utah. Bullock singled out the new Eccles Student Life Center building as just a portion of the tremendous growth on the Utah campus that leads him to believe it would be “one of the best villages ever in the history of the Games.”

The Olympic Village was on Utah’s campus in 2002, when the athlete count maxed out at 3,500, Bullock said. A potential future Games would bring as many as 5,000.

“It’s a massive opportunity and benefit to us,” Bullock said of the growth of Utah’s campus over the last two decades. “Having one village is so unique and such a special opportunity for the athletes in the village. The U. is the perfect place for that.”