Any event that can drive $5 billion in economic activity in 16 days is worth preparing for.
Evanston officials said there were a few things they did not see coming when the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games brought more than 2,300 athletes from 78 countries and hundreds of thousands of international travelers to southwest Wyoming’s doorstep in 2002.
Evanston is a border community on Interstate 80 that has long positioned itself to reap the economic benefits of being located only 90 miles from Utah’s Wasatch Front and Salt Lake City International Airport. Utah is the fastest growing state in the nation with 3.3 million people and a diverse economy.
Now Utah is in the running to host the 2034 Winter Olympics and so far, Salt Lake City is the only city on the list. Utah officials are confident they’ll receive the bid since many of the venues for Olympic sporting events are already in place from when SLC hosted the 2002 Winter Games.
During a recent news conference, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is “very interested” in Salt Lake City hosting the Winter Games in 2034.
Evanston Loves The Olympics
Utah officials hope the Olympic bid will help them land Major League Baseball and National Hockey League teams.
With a 10-year window and no formal announcement in place, Evanston officials haven’t yet started making plans to market their city to Olympic games travelers. However, with experience from the 2002 Winter Games, this isn’t the city’s first rodeo.
Evanston budgeted $250,000 for promotions leading up to and during the 2002 Winter Games. The state of Wyoming joined the effort and added $300,000 to promote and entice travelers to visit Wyoming.
Evanston hired an Olympic coordinator, Rick Lunsford, and named Afton’s Rulon Gardner as its Olympic ambassador. Gardner told Cowboy State Daily in January that, at 51, he was training in hopes of wrestling in the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris.
Gardner is a heavyweight wrestler who scored a stunning upset in the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Gardner became a national hero when he defeated Russian Aleksandr Karelin and won the gold medal. Karelin, who lost to Gardner by one point, was previously unbeaten in 13 years of international competition.
Jim Davis, Evanston’s former director of administrative services, said Gardner helped shine a spotlight on Evanston and the entire state of Wyoming during the ’02 Winter games. Evanston put up a huge big-screen television with bleachers in its downtown Depot Square where people could watch the events. The city also put on other events like fireworks displays, ice and wood carving.
A handful of small Wyoming cities teamed up with Evanston in 2002 to host a hospitality suite in Park City, Utah, where many of the ski events were held, Davis said.
“We weren’t sure what to expect, but Evanston definitely caught Olympic fever,” Davis said. “There was a lot of preparation, and it generated a great deal of excitement.”
Rare Air For Airport
One of the most exciting places in Wyoming during the 2002 Winter Games was the Evanston Uinta County Airport.
Airport Director Mike LaSalle said during a normal month, jet fuel demand at the Evanston airfield is about 5,000 gallons. In February 2002, it sold 143,000 gallons.
LaSalle said as many as 50 business jets with up to 70 passengers each were arriving and departing from Evanston every day during the 2002 Winter Games. Local residents remember how the relatively quiet airport was bustling with travelers.
“When we learned we couldn’t keep up with the demand we bought a used jet fuel truck and leased another one from a fuel supplier,” he said. “We were accustomed to calling in our fuel order, but we had to set up daily delivery of 7,500 gallons.”
The airport hired two or three additional full-time employees during the games and set up three additional rental car agencies in the airport lobby to accommodate travelers, LaSalle said.
“I remember being real busy with limos and shuttle buses running around here and the National Guard would make a pass through two or three times a day just to check on things,” LaSalle said.
The National Guard presence relates to major changes in air travel that were occurring at the time in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania.
Rooms Will Be At A Premium
Rocco O’Neill, Evanston community and economic development director, said he anticipates lodging challenges if the Winter Olympics come to Utah in 2034. Park City is likely to fill up and overflow will come to Evanston.
“I see a massive wave of lodging demand and, if I had to bet, there will be a lot of Airbnbs on the market here,” he said.
He added that once the bid is announced, construction in southwest Wyoming is expected to increase.
The International Olympic Committee recently announced that it would make a dual announcement for the 2030 and 2034 Winter Games. Utah Gov. Cox called that announcement the clearest signal yet that Utah is in a strong position.
Salt Lake City is in the running to host either the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games. However, according to news reports, Utah officials prefer 2034 because the 2028 Summer Games were awarded to Los Angeles. Being too close to that event could result in less advertising from domestic companies.