Going for the gold

Perhaps you hadn't noticed, but Baltimore and Maryland are again in the running to be part of the world's most celebrated of sports events. Last week, a nonprofit group in Washington announced that the District and Baltimore plan to throw their hats into the ring as contenders to jointly host the 2024 Summer Olympic games. This could be a great opportunity to showcase the city and its region.

Baltimore has already been disappointed once, in the early 2000s, when its joint bid with Washington to host the 2012 games didn't make the cut with the U.S. Olympic Committee, which makes the final decision about which American locale to recommend to the event's international governing body. That year, D.C. and Baltimore's bid lost out to proposals submitted by New York and San Francisco.

But the qualities that made the Baltimore-Washington region a strong contender to host the Games then haven't changed over the past decade. If any anything, they're even more compelling. This time organizers are pitching an appeal that includes not only Baltimore and Washington, with their massive stadium complexes and accessible waterfronts, but also sites in Annapolis, College Park and Northern Virginia as part of the package. That potentially could produce a huge economic boost for the entire region and highlight Baltimore City on a global stage.

Because the USOC prefers to work with a single jurisdiction rather than two, the bid's organizers are calling themselves "D.C. 2024." This should allow them to take advantage of Washington's cachet as an international cultural capital and to help attract the $3 million to $5 million needed to raise over the next two years to make the case to the U.S. Olympic Committee. But make no mistake, Baltimore would play a major role in the Games if the effort is successful, with Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor designated as prime locations for athletic and water-related events. Indeed, as Robert T. Sweeney, president of DC 2004, told The Sun, "We can't do it without Baltimore."

One great advantage of a regional bid is that no single jurisdiction would be required to cover the cost of hosting the Olympics, estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion. One of the big downsides for any city contemplating such an ambitious venture is the requirement to build huge stadiums, arenas and other sports venues using public funds, then being stuck with a bunch of potential white elephants as soon as the athletes go home.

But because the Baltimore-Washington region already has many superb, purpose-built structures for athletic events, as well as efficient air and rail transportation hubs, hotel accommodations, restaurants and the like within easy reach, it could keep new construction costs to a minimum while still putting on a spectacular show.

The idea of a regional alliance also makes sense because it would help Baltimore establish itself more firmly as a major cultural and tourist destination. The city is already trying to remake its image through its association with the racing events held here over Labor Day weekend. Whether the Baltimore Grand Prix can become a reliable draw over the coming decade remains to be seen, but the city should certainly be looking ahead to even bigger attractions in the future that add luster to the Charm City brand. And for that, nothing beats helping to host the quadrennial summer Olympic Games.

There's no doubt the Baltimore-Washington region will be up against some pretty stiff competition from other U.S. cities that are thinking exactly the same thing. Next year Los Angeles, San Francisco, Kansas City, Seattle, Minneapolis, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Atlanta are all expected to come up with serious bids. Then the U.S. Olympic Committee will choose what it considers the strongest proposal to submit to the International Olympic Committee in 2015. The IOC will make the final cut from the list of cities around the world recommended by their respective national Olympic committees.

In other words, this is still far from a done deal. It will take a massive marketing effort just to get to the head of the line among our U.S. competitors, let alone potential rivals overseas. But Baltimore and Washington are right to start early in recruiting the support of city and state officials, local sports team owners, arena operators and business leaders. If the whole region pulls together, it surely has the resources to mount a credible proposal that would take it to the next round.

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