A chorus of officials from across the region said today that they support a bid for the 2024 summer Olympic Games, jumping behind an effort being led by a group of local business leaders.
After hearing from the co-chairs of the Washington 2024 committee this afternoon during a session of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, leaders from D.C., Maryland and Virginia said they back the bid, which is pitting the region against three other U.S. contenders: San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston.
"Count my city as a strong supporter," said Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille, speaking after Russ Ramsey and Ted Leonsis, who are leading the effort to land the games, briefed the council. He was followed by leaders from Arlington, Fairfax County, Prince William County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. And though did not speak during the session, D.C. City Administrator Allen Lew said the city similarly stood behind the bid.
In their presentation to the council, Ramsey and Leonsis emphasized that bringing the Olympics to the region could spur development, expand and improve infrastructure, and help bring life to underserved area. Both cited what they called the transformation of east London after the city hosted the 2012 games.
"We do have in London a very good proxy," said Ramsey. "It's been a really terrific success. They used the Olympics to really re-brand the UK. They put 70,000 people to work who were previously unemployed. It's been a resource creator that seems to be have been very beneficial to their prestige, their economy and the people in the community."
Calling the games a "big, audacious goal," Leonsis also said the games could help re-introduce the region to the world, much as China and Russia used the games to highlight their own cities.
"When we first said we wanted to bid to be the U.S. city, we were told, 'You don't have a shot. Nobody likes Washington, D.C.,'" said Leonsis. "No one understands this community. It's an outdated image of what we're about. There is no bigger global spectacle, no better way to have a coming-out party than the Olympics."
He also said that the games could bring benefits to underserved areas in the region, and that the Olympic village could be transformed into housing for low-income residents after the games ended.
But despite the lofty goals, neither Ramsey nor Leonsis gave any details on how much the games would cost, nor how the expenses would be split between jurisdictions and businesses. According to Ramsey, a fuller picture of the financial commitments needed to host the games would come if Washington is chosen later this year.
Those costs could be high: the London Olympics cost $14.6 billion, while Beijing came out to $44 billion. (The 1996 summer games in Atlanta cost the city $2 billion.) But Leonsis argued that the Washington region could see savings from using existing infrastructure and facilities stretching from Baltimore to Richmond.
Still, the price tag is on the minds of some leaders, including D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
"The dynamic behind this is a little bit odd. There will be a significant investment by government, not just the District but governments throughout the region, and yet [the bid is] being driven right now by the private sector," he said. "Now, the private sector will have to pony up significant investment as well. The question I have asked... will this be a net gain in terms of financial investment?"
The regional unity could also fray over the location of particular events or facilities. "Certain things you can only have one. I say tongue in cheek that there's going to be a food fight over beach volleyball. There's going to be things where the region will collaborate, but I also think there will be areas where the region competes, but I think that's good," said Ramsey.
Over the next three months, said Ramsey, the committee will focus on providing technical details to the U.S. Olympic Committee about the region and its bid. If Washington is selected, the committee will start working with individual jurisdictions on what they can provide and what they need.
Leonsis said that while Washington faces tough competition from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, he remained confident that the regional bid would be the best chance to return the summer games to the country since Atlanta.
"We're the best shot that the United States has to re-introduce America, to bring this Olympic spirit, to take care of the athletes, to be that shining light, this great city on the hill," he said.