Keith Rosenberg and Paul Levy want to bring the summer Olympic Games to Baltimore in 2008.
Ha, you say. And your mother's the Queen of England.
But watch these two Maryland attorneys go. Watch them count railroad ties and airplanes. Crunch numbers. Collect data. Cold call Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag with their bright idea.
Wait. Moag doesn't hang up on them. He likes these guys. He likes their pluck.
Inspired by the Atlanta-Billy Payne model of how to hold the Olympics in your hometown, plenty of Maryland folks have approached Moag with the same idea. Rosenberg and Levy, however, follow through. Moag assigns homework and they do it. He asks for numbers to take to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and they deliver. Moag believes they're serious.
This is encouraging for Rosenberg and Levy, who unabashedly say: "We have no political clout. We're just two guys with a harebrained scheme."
That scheme took root last summer, when Levy, a 34-year-old Kensington resident, attended the Atlanta Olympics and Rosenberg, 50, watched from his Owings Mills home.
Both were swept away by the spectacle and the way world affairs appeared to halt as soon as the Olympic torch was lit.
Passionate sports fans, Rosenberg and Levy thrilled to the amateur athleticism that brought citizens across the globe to their feet. "It's a beautiful, pure event," Rosenberg says. "These athletes toil for years and years and years for the love of their sport."
The two men, who met six years ago and have worked on a number of law cases together, claim to be ardent Baltimore fans as well. Rosenberg, co-owner of a Washington law firm, has lived in Owings Mills since 1993 and in Maryland since 1968. Levy hails from Montgomery County but feels a stronger kinship to Baltimore than nearby Washington.
For detail men, their motives for luring the Olympics here sound unusually warm and fuzzy. An arsenal of facts and statistics dissolves into Baltimore tableaux and impressions when Rosenberg and Levy describe what some may deem a quixotic mission: Remember that dreary '70s song by Randy Newman about Baltimore? Look how the city has since turned its rusty underbelly into a vital tourist and sports center, they say. Look at how much more can be done.
It comes down to this, Rosenberg and Levy say: Does Baltimore want to be a player on the world stage again?
They find it inconceivable that any Baltimorean would see a hometown Olympiad as merely a traffic-snarling hassle, a good excuse to flee town for two weeks.
And they point repeatedly to the financial benefits bestowed by the Olympics upon Georgia: "$5.1 billion dollars, just in tax revenues!"
But Rosenberg insists he and Levy have nothing to gain, except a sense of pride and accomplishment. "You gotta give something back to the place where you live," Rosenberg says.
Well, maybe there is one thing. Lawyers, Rosenberg says, have a "bad reputation, one step above sharks, one step below politicians." Helping put on a grand civic effort couldn't hurt the profession's image, he says.
Since last summer, the two attorneys have spent hours poring over statistics, making conference calls to Atlanta Olympic officials and assembling a database of state amateur athletic associations, sports facilities and other important contacts. Their law firms have allowed them to do Olympic research while on the job, but they also hit the books on weeknights and on weekends.
Moag, for one, does not dismiss Rosenberg and Levy as pipe dreamers.
"I have talked to an awful lot of people interested in seeing the Olympics coming to Maryland, a rather broad spectrum of people who have an interest. I have to put Keith and Paul at the top of the list," he says.
"They're the only two people I've given assignments to and they've done things. That to me's the test. A lot of people have ideas. It's another thing to be willing to roll up your sleeves and get to work."
Applying for the Olympic Games is an arduous, multi-tiered process. Any bid must first be endorsed by Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. With their OK, Baltimore would compete with other U.S. jurisdictions for the United States Olympic Committee's nomination. The USOC will decide by June whether to even seek the 2008 Games. If it proceeds, a specific candidate will be chosen in late 1998 at the earliest.
In October of 2001, the International Olympic Committee will select the 2008 host city. Since the United States held the Summer Games in 1984 and 1996 and will hold the Winter Games in 2002, it is not considered to be a front-runner for 2008. The USOC is, however, considering a single candidate city for both 2008 and 2012.
Rosenberg and Levy would be ecstatic with either slot. Because of its wealth, the Eastern Seaboard will inevitably receive the Olympics at some point, they say. So the lucky city may as well be Baltimore, which they believe is well equipped to handle an onslaught of athletes, tourists and media.
To not even try for the Games is "analogous to buying a turbo-charged Porsche and putting a tarp over it," Levy says.
Airport improvements, stadium construction, rail links, highways, hotels -- "The big-ticket items are done, and paid for, and brand spanking new," Rosenberg says.
A few major sports centers, such as a velodrome and a swimming venue, would have to be constructed. A savvy developer could build an Olympic Village on city property and make a tidy profit by attracting well-heeled residents when the Olympic games concluded, Rosenberg and Levy say.
A Baltimore Olympics wouldn't gobble tax dollars, the lawyers say. Corporate sponsorships would fill in the blanks.
So far, Moag stops short of publicly supporting their effort, but he shares Rosenberg and Levy's optimistic reasoning. "I'm still encouraging them," he says. "I still haven't walked into the governor and said it's a crazy idea."
Baltimore, the Stadium Authority official says, "has a better infrastructure for holding an Olympiad than anywhere else in the country. That is an objective fact. You just can't ignore it," Moag says.
Nor can you ignore "85,000 jobs, $5 billion, minority businesses that started and grew; you don't ignore that kind of impact. And that doesn't count what it does for the psyche. Going through the exercise itself is good for the community. It brings people together," Moag says.
Since their brainstorm began, Rosenberg and Levy have juggled their day jobs with Olympic research and conference calls with Olympic officials and Atlanta residents instrumental in last summer's Olympics. In February, as representatives of the Baltimore Committee for the Olympics, they attended a seminar with Moag conducted by the USOC for cities considering bids.
Rosenberg and Levy are hoping for an imminent "formal political endorsement" from state officials. If Glendening decides to go for it, the state must hand the USOC a non-refundable $100,000 check by early May.
Rosenberg is confident that private contributors will come through with the deposit.
Now that the state legislature has adjourned, Moag plans to discuss Baltimore's Olympic prospects with the governor. "The mayor needs to be briefed," as well, he says. (Both officials must sign a letter of intent that serves as a pledge of financial support.)
Moag is circumspect about Baltimore's Olympic prospects, but calls "wrong" a recent news report that Baltimore had lost interest in applying.
Still, Moag says, boosters like Rosenberg and Levy must understand the difference between a great idea and "the bottom line."
"It's a really big difference. The Olympics is a mega-issue, the money is gigantic, the issues are immense. It's the kind of thing that isn't the least bit simple."
But Rosenberg and Levy say they are too deep into their quest to be deterred.
"I don't see how we can fail even if we don't get the votes," Rosenberg says. "I don't see the down side to trying."
Pub Date: 4/11/97