Don’t air our ‘dirty laundry’: Utahns ask Olympic group to clean up state’s issues if Winter Games return

At listening session, SLC-Utah Committee for the Games asked to tackle environmental stewardship, homelessness, access and transportation, among other issues.

Liza Springmeyer and her friends share an inside joke: Utah is great, they say, just don’t tell anyone.

That secret will be spread far and wide, though, if the Olympics return to the state as they are projected to as soon as 2030 or 2034. Considering how difficult it has already become to find affordable housing along the Wasatch front, and that the state is facing current and looming environmental troubles, Springmeyer sees the attention from their return as a source of apprehension.

So, she took her concerns to the top. She aired them at the first of two listening sessions held Wednesday by the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games, which is heading the effort to bring the international sporting spectacle back to the state.

“I think it has to be said,” Springmeyer, a Salt Lake City resident who is a consultant for nonprofits, said. “Maybe I’m just one person saying it, but I would hope that they’re hearing it in lots of different areas that we are growing and we’re reaching our limits here.”

Committee members heard from about 40 people over the two sessions, which were presented as an opportunity for the city’s residents and leaders to voice their concerns about, and hopes, for the lasting impacts a second Winter Olympics would have on the area. Some, like Springmeyer, voiced uneasiness about the attention and growth it could bring to the state. Others aired concerns and suggestions on topics ranging from housing and homelessness to equitable access at events to transportation plans to environmental stewardship and, yes, even to air.

The meeting was an addition to the six listening sessions the SLC-UT committee held in Summit County over the past month. Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the committee, said his group is gathering input with the intention of singling out a handful of issues on which to focus. He noted, however, that some broad issues, such as rent control, might be out of the group’s reach.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fraser Bullock, the president and CEO of the Salt Lake City - Utah Committee for the Games, leads a discussion during a listening session at Industry SLC on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

“We can’t solve every societal ill, although we would love to,” Bullock said. “We have to pick our spots. We’re going to have to choose a few key initiatives where we say, ‘OK, this is one where we are uniquely positioned to help,’” Bullock said. “But when it comes to clean air, absolutely [that’s a priority]. Because that’s part of the experience of the Games. Are we going to be able to see our mountains?”

Environmental stewardship in general is a high priority for the committee, Bullock said, noting the goal for the Salt Lake Games is to make them “climate positive.” It appeared to be a focal point for residents as well. A breakout group discussing sustainability and environment during the morning session, which was held over Zoom, drew nearly half of the attendees. In addition to improving air quality, discussions centered around educating visitors about the fragility of Utah’s environment, preservation of the Great Salt Lake and water conservation.

Perhaps most pervasive was trepidation that resorts in the Cottonwood Canyons, which already see heavy winter traffic, would host Olympic events. That was immediately squashed by Bullock.

“I’m giving you my personal guarantee that we will not use the Cottonwood Canyons,” he said.

The environment wasn’t the sole source of conversation, however. Another breakout group looked at equity and inclusion. Its participants wanted the committee to make both the Games-time events and subsequent community sports programs — such as youth skating camps — more accessible to rural and diverse communities. It also sought to highlight the achievements of LGBTQ and Paralympic athletes and coaches.

The topic of homelessness also sparked some impassioned pleas. Bill Tibbitts, the associate director of the Crossroads Urban Center, noted that many elderly tenants and families were displaced in 2002 when landlords raised rents for the month of the Olympics. He urged the committee to provide shelters and alternate housing for people who might find themselves in a similar situation during the next Games.

“If we as a community set the goal of ending unsheltered homelessness between now and the Games and had proactive steps for housing people who are displaced during the Games,” Tibbitts said, “that could be an amazing story in terms of what the Games accomplished in our community.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Richard Layman, a Salt Lake resident, makes a comment during a listening session with Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Along those same lines, Richard Layman, a Salt Lake City resident who attended the in-person session held at Industry SLC, asked that the committee push for major policy and cultural shifts.

“Here’s this opportunity just to be quantum mechanics,” he said, “and to really change the whole way we do things.”

Bullock said that in addition to the handful of initiatives it takes on itself, he hopes the committee can be a conduit between the groups spearheading other major projects and the federal funds or policy makers who can help bring them to fruition. The Salt Lake Games, his group has promised, will be entirely privately funded except for federal dollars spent on security measures.

First though, Utah has to win the right to host another Olympics.

Salt Lake City has put its hat into the ring to host either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games. It prefers the latter, though, since that gives it more separation from the 2028 Summer Games, which will be in Los Angeles. If the International Olympic Committee decides to award the 2030 Olympics to Utah anyway, that announcement could come as soon as December. That’s when the IOC’s executive board is expected to enter a targeted dialog with a potential host, which all but locks that city into position unless it cannot meet all of its obligations to the IOC. The IOC is expected to officially name the 2030 host next October.

The host of the 2034 Games is not expected to be named until at least 2024.

This Feb. 3, 1972, photo shows a ceremony marking the opening of the XIth Winter Olympic Games at Makomanai Ice Stadium. The city of Sapporo was the first to officially bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. Sapporo was host to the 1972 Winter Olympics but its 2030 bid has been rocked by a bribery scandal related to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. (Kyodo News via AP)

In addition to Utah, cities in the running for the 2030 Games include Sapporo, Japan, and Vancouver, Canada.

For her part, Springmeyer said she’s pro Olympics in Salt Lake City, but with reservations.

“Let’s make sure that this next one that we’re not literally airing our dirty laundry: horrible air quality and a lake that’s dried up and no snowfall,” Springmeyer said. “These are real risks that we could come upon. And so if we’re going to do this, let’s invest in making sure those things don’t happen and let’s make sure that they don’t happen not just for the Olympics, but for forever.”

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