Jacksonville invited to make Olympic bid

City among 35 cities asked about interest in hosting games

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville is among 35 cities contacted by the U.S. Olympic Committee to gauge its interest in hosting the 2024 Summer Games.

The USOC sent letters Tuesday to Mayor Alvin Brown, as well as mayors in Orlando, Miami and 32 other cities, to see if they would be interested in a potential bid to bring the summer games back to the country for the first time since 1996.

"We would like to begin having discussions with interested cities about possible bid themes as well as the infrastructure, financial resources and other assets that are required to host the Games," wrote USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun.

Following failed bids by New York and Chicago for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, the USOC is taking a measured approach before moving ahead with a new campaign and wants to be sure it has a good chance of winning.

"This letter does not guarantee that the USOC will bid for the 2024 Games, but rather is an initial step in evaluating a potential bid," the committee said.

In addition to the three Florida cities, the other cities that received the letter were Phoenix; San Jose, Calif.; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; Denver; Washington; Atlanta; Chicago; Indianapolis; Baltimore; Detroit; Minneapolis; St. Louis; Las Vegas; New York; Boston; Rochester; Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; Tulsa, Okla.; Portland, Ore.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; Memphis; Nashville and Davidson County; Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Houston; San Antonio; and Seattle.

The USOC letter sought to remind the mayors of the huge undertaking involved in hosting the Olympics. Blackmun noted that the operating costs would be in excess of $3 billion, a figure that does not include venue construction and infrastructure costs.

"The mayor is very serious about this, and I think the leadership of Jacksonville is very serious. We just have to make sure it feasibly works for the city," said Alan Verlander, executive director for Jacksonville Sports and Entertainment.

The city would also require 45,000 hotel rooms, an Olympic village for 16,500 athletes and officials, an international airport and a workforce of up to 200,000, the letter said.

"Right now we're about 30,000 hotel rooms in the northeast Florida region, so unless we were stretching outside the region, 45,000 would be a little hard to reach right now," said Katie Kurycki, of Visit Jacksonville.

When hosting the Super Bowl in 2005, the city of Jacksonville brought in cruise ships to provide 7,000 additional rooms to satisfy the National Football League requirements of 100,000.

"It was just unbelievable, nightclubs and restaurants popping up left and right," business owner Jeff Davis said. "It was an amazing time."

The U.S. hasn't hosted the Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996; Salt Lake City was the last American city to stage the Winter Games in 2002.

The USOC has also said it would consider whether to bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics, although the bigger and more prestigious Summer Games would seem to be the preference.

Los Angeles, Dallas and Tulsa, Okla., had already expressed interest in hosting the 2024 Games. New York, Chicago and San Francisco have either bid or expressed interest in bidding in the past and could also get in the mix.

New York finished fourth in the international bidding for the 2012 Olympics, which went to London. Chicago suffered a stinging first-round exit in the vote for the 2016 Games, which were awarded to Rio de Janeiro.

Chicago's defeat was blamed partly on the revenue-sharing feud between the USOC and IOC. The two sides have since resolved the dispute and signed a new agreement that clears the way for a U.S. bid. USOC leaders have also worked hard to improve the committee's standing in the international Olympic community.

"Now more than ever, we need to use the power of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to encourage our youth to be active and engaged in sport," Blackmun wrote.

Other cities around the world that have expressed interest in bidding for the 2024 Games include Paris; Rome; Doha; Dubai; and Durban, South Africa. The IOC vote on the 2024 Games will be in 2017.

The USOC is skipping the bidding for the 2020 Olympics. The three candidates for those games are Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo, with the IOC to vote Sept. 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The USOC said Tuesday it has two and a half years to decide whether to submit a 2024 bid and would do so in an "economically efficient way."

While New York and Chicago were selected by the USOC after a domestic bid process that cost up to $10 million, the USOC said it would embark on any new bid through "a thoughtful but more efficient process."

"The games have had a transformative impact on a number of host cities, including Barcelona, Beijing and London," Blackmun said.

Jacksonville is also in the running for the next Olympic swimming trials. It's momentum the city just didn't have 10-15 years ago.

"I think it's an honor," Verlander said. "I think it's a respect factor that Jacksonville is one of those cities now that's a national leader."

Visitors in town in for a conference like the idea of Jacksonville as a host city.

"It's easy to get here, the transportation was great, and I think it would be outstanding," said Debby Crabtree, who's visiting from Ohio.

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