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Baltimore’s lost Olympics

If things had gone the way Dan Knise had wanted, Michael Phelps would be swimming in the 2012 Olympic Games less than an hour away from his old Towson home.

Dan Knise was president and CEO of the Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition, the group that led the effort to bring the 2012 Olympics to the Baltimore-Washington area. He now runs an insurance firm in McLean, Va.

Instead, Phelps will be going for the gold in London, and Knise will be flying across the Atlantic Ocean to spend six days at the games, which begin July 27.

“Obviously, we would have had an exciting time. We would have all been gearing up for millions of people to come to D.C., Maryland and Virginia. … We would have had a lot of international attention on our area,” said Knise, who was president and CEO of the Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition and led the effort to bring the 2012 games to the Baltimore-Washington area.

Today, Knise is president and CEO of the McLean, Va.-based insurance firm Ames & Gough.

Knise’s dream ended on Aug. 27, 2002, when the region’s bid — which made it to the top four U.S. candidates — was eliminated in favor of New York City and San Francisco. New York ultimately moved on to be the U.S. contender, but it lost out to London in the International Olympic Committee competition that included Paris, Madrid and Moscow.

Bidding alone cost about $9.5 million, raised from private investors, and bringing the games to the region would have meant $610 million in capital improvements. The games would have cost $2.8 billion to put on and would have brought in $2.9 billion, according to reports from the time.

The Olympics were projected to pump $5.3 billion into the region, including $2.5 billion into Maryland and $1.2 billion into Baltimore. The coalition expected the games to create at least 17,000 jobs from 2005 to 2012, according to reports from the time.

In addition to crowds and cash pouring into town, a winning bid would have meant major changes in Charm City: a new Baltimore arena was to play host to the gymnastics competition.

Plans were for a $200 million, 18,000-seat arena that would have replaced Baltimore’s 14,000-seat facility built in 1962. Reports at the time estimated construction of a new arena would have been completed by 2008 if the bid had gone forward.

Ten years later, the city has explored the possibility of building a new arena, but no construction dollars have been committed and no ground broken.

A 5,500-seat velodrome, or indoor cycling arena, would have been built at the site of Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street. Today, the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Family Center YMCA occupies that space.

M&T Bank Stadium — PSINet Stadium at the time of the bid — was to have been one of five sites for soccer. FedEx Field in Landover was another, as were three facilities outside of the region.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick and Prince George’s Stadium would have hosted the world’s best batters and pitchers. That was part of the region’s bid, but the IOC dropped baseball and softball from the games in 2005.

Talk even percolated about a maglev — magnetic levitation — train that would connect Baltimore and Washington in about 15 minutes, half the time it takes now.

Even if the maglev hadn’t come to fruition, the metro line from D.C. to Dulles International Airport in Virginia as well as other improvements to Washington’s metro system and transportation infrastructure connecting the capital and Baltimore — including the MARC train — would certainly have come to fruition.

“It was an exciting vision for those of us who spend our lives straddling Washington and Baltimore, so for me in particular at that time it was particularly gratifying and promising that we might improve commute time down the B-W parkway,” said George P. Stamas, a senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Washington and an executive board member of the Chesapeake Region 2012 Coalition.

The largest chunk of the capital improvement money would have gone toward building an Olympic Sports Complex at the site of Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington. The complex would have held the Olympic Stadium, a new facility that would have replaced RFK Stadium.

“The idea was to convert it to a football stadium after the Olympics and bring the Redskins back to D.C.,” Knise said.

Olympic Village in College Park

A temporary Olympic Aquatics Center for swimming and diving — water polo was to be held in a new complex planned for Arlington, Va. — was also slated for the Olympic complex, as was boxing, which would have been held in a renovated D.C. Armory.

The University of Maryland, College Park’s 1,250-acre campus would have become the sprawling Olympic Village, housing some 10,000 athletes competing in 26 sports.

“Although they’ve made some improvements already, we would have had a continued upgrade to some of the student facilities because that’s where the athletes would have been,” Knise said.

Instead of watching the games’ opening ceremonies on TV, Baltimoreans and Washingtonians could have peeked out their windows: The ceremonies were planned simultaneously for the Inner Harbor as well as a location in D.C., either the Olympic Stadium or a temporary stadium erected on the National Mall.

Games a catalyst

The Olympic Games are “a catalyst to get things moving faster,” said Lisa Delpy Neirotti, associate professor of sports management at George Washington University. Neirotti has attended 16 consecutive Olympic Games and will be going to London.

But bidding for the games can be “a losing battle” for the U.S., Neirotti said. It may be even harder for Washington.

“I’m just not sure the U.S. Olympic Committee would, because of political reasons, choose Washington, D.C., vs. a Chicago or a San Francisco,” she said.

“They know it’s a losing battle. Even though it’s supposed to be apolitical, the bidding is supposed to be apolitical, there’s still some hard feelings from many countries against the United States.”

Those hard feelings come from two sources: money and politics, she said.

“We made a very good negotiating stance a long time ago where we got the 20 percent off the top and the 12.7 percent off the top, and many countries hate us for that,” she said.

The U.S Olympic Committee receives 20 percent of the money from the games’ biggest international sponsors and 12.7 percent of the international broadcast dollars. For the 2010 and 2012 games, that meant $191 million from the top sponsors and $508 million from broadcast fees.

“If they can get over the money part, they still have the political part, and D.C. represents us,” Neirotti said.

Playing up freedom

That’s something David Warschawski knew.

His Baltimore public relations firm represented the region’s 2012 bid.

“We really wanted in the brochure to play up the [image] of the Baltimore and the D.C. area as being the center of freedom, of democracy, of diversity, and we picked images that played that up as opposed to the seat of political power for the world,” said the CEO of Warschawski Inc.

But the region’s existing infrastructure — 23 of 33 necessary facilities were already built — and experience handling high-security situations made for a strong bid, he said.

“We often through the process believed that the Baltimore-D.C. bid was the front-runner bid. … But sadly, we did not [get selected], and there was a lot of feeling that had to do with the emotional ties with New York City with what happened after Sept. 11, that they were sort of a sentimental pick,” he said.

“But on paper, everyone believed D.C. had a great [bid].”