SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah is moving forward with plans to host another Winter Olympics.
The first steps were taken on Thursday with the launch of an exploratory committee to bid to host either the 2026 or 2030 Olympic Winter Games. It comes 15 years after Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Olympics.
"Nobody is more ready, willing and able than we are to host a future Games," said Jeff Robbins, the president of the Utah Sports Commission.
Former Salt Lake Olympic executives, athletes and Utah dignitaries were on hand for the announcement.
"We are eager to explore any opportunity that should present itself to host the games again," said Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski.
Salt Lake City must decide by Feb. 1, 2018 if it will pursue a bid. The International Olympic Committee has already opened up the official discussion period for interested cities. The deadline for bids is March 31.
The Olympic Exploratory Committee will include Fraser Bullock, who was the Chief Operating Officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee in 2002; Senate President Wayne Niederhauser; House Speaker Greg Hughes; Salt Lake Mayor Jackie Biskupski; and Gov. Gary Herbert.
"I think we’re serious. We owe it to our citizens and public officials to do a thorough job and we’re going to do that. But we think we’ve done legacy, and we’re ready, willing and able unlike anybody else anywhere," said Jeff Robbins, the CEO of the Utah Sports Commission.
Salt Lake City hosted an incredibly successful Olympics, helping to bring the nation together after the 9/11 terror attacks. It also emerged from a bribery scandal where IOC members were accused of accepting gifts and inducements in exchange for the 2002 Games. Then-executives of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee were ousted, and Mitt Romney was brought in to oversee the games.
Asked about the bribery scandal, Fraser Bullock, who was the Chief Operating Officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee under Romney, said history would not repeat itself.
"The culture of the IOC has changed. They did a restructuring," he said.
Staging an Olympics is not cheap. Members of the committee estimated it could cost as much as $1.6 billion to put on the massive event. However, Utah has an advantage: we have existing Olympic venues that are still in operation.
A report presented to the Utah State Legislature revealed it would cost taxpayers as much as $40 million to upgrade those facilities for a future Olympics. House Speaker Greg Hughes said it would be worth it.
"I describe those as anyway costs. Much of those are costs we think would be an important investment for our state whether we were attempting to host the games again or not," he said.
Major reasons to go ahead with another Olympic bid would be the massive amounts of exposure. The 2002 Winter Games were profitable and generated $2.1 billion and 35,000 jobs for Utah's economy. By 2030, that number is expected to be significantly higher.
Olympic speedskater Derek Parra, who won in 2002, said he would love to see another Winter Games staged in Utah.
"If we can host another Olympic Games, I would love to have an opportunity just to share that not only the new generation of speed skaters but the new generation of youth," he said.