Why Philadelphia Needs the Olympics

It isn't a pipe dream. It's a realistic goal that could transform the city

We know what your first reaction is going to be: Here? In Philadelphia?
It's become a collective conditioned response; when dreams are
proffered in Philadelphia, we wallow in the practical and focus on the
roadblocks, rather than do the hard work of allowing ourselves to
imagine and then setting about turning vision into reality. “So many of
our dreams at first seem impossible,” Christopher Reeve once said,
“then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they
soon become inevitable.”

Well, Joe Torsella has a dream, and we want to jump-start that
collective will so that it becomes inevitable—­before a “Can't-Do”
mentality takes hold. In the coming weeks, Torsella, founding CEO of
the Constitution Center, and Larry Needle, head of the Philadelphia
Sports Congress, plan to announce the formation of Philadelphia 2016
and its bold idea to bring the Olympics here in 2016. They've been
quietly working for a year, supported by the William Penn Foundation,
and now their group includes some of the most dynamic names in the
region: Paul Levy of the Center City District, Alba Martinez of the
United Way, David Thornburgh of the Pennsylvania Economy League, 
and Pat Croce have all signed on to help make Torsella's dream a
reality (as has this magazine's editor). We are with them because we
believe the only thing keeping Philadelphia from world-class status is
our lack of imagination in seeing ourselves that way—what Torsella
refers to as our “sad-sack way of thinking.”

So we're going to do our best in these pages to challenge your
imagination. Because it's such an abstract notion—the Olympics, 11
years from now?—we're going to bring it to life for you and make the
case to you. Bidding for the Olympics is about much more than hosting a
couple of weeks of fun and games. It's about issuing a self-confident
statement of who we are and how we see ourselves. It's about the
clear-eyed facts of the case and the reality that we do have the
infrastructure in place for a transcendent moment. Most of all, it's
about a long-term investment in our region's future.

The Can't-Doers will say, “How are you going to spend money to bring
the Olympics here when our schools are failing?” We reject such
shortsightedness. Fact is, the Olympics can help save the schools by
lifting all boats. The Los Angeles Games made a profit of $232 million,
created jobs, raised morale. Less than a decade after hosting the 1996
Games, Atlanta is first in the nation in new home construction and
second in new hotel rooms. When managed in an intelligent way, the
Olympics can provide the economic impact that turns host cities around.

And compared to others in the hunt, we don't have much to do. Some of
us were opposed to the building of Citizens Bank Park in South Philly
because we felt plans for a Center City park fell victim to that
ubiquitous “Can't-Do” mentality. But, ironically, now that the stadium
is there, it's a plus for hosting the Games. One of the reasons New
York failed in its bid for 2012 was its mishmash of venues, spread
throughout a vast region. Here, we have four state-of-the-art Olympic
venues in South Philly alone, plus miles of underdeveloped property
upon which to build more, not to mention the Naval Yard and the
intersection of two interstates. Add in potential venues at area
colleges, and we may only need to build a few new ones, possibly
including a large stadium and a swimming complex. To host the Games in
2004, Athens had to build 21 such facilities.

Philadelphia 2016 will have ample plans to insure long-term benefits
for the region, which we'll try and lay out for you throughout the
bidding process. (The United States Olympic Committee should decide by
mid-2007 which city to nominate; thus far, Chicago, San Francisco and
Los Angeles are readying proposals.) But most of all, we're going to
try and get you excited about what could be. Joe Torsella is someone
who, to borrow from Bobby Kennedy's paraphrase of George Bernard Shaw,
“dreams things that never were and asks, 'Why not?'” Well, we've looked
at the evidence and concluded there's no rational answer—other than the
safe protection against wounds to our self-image that passivity offers.
Screw passivity. We think we're worthy. And we're going for it. —The Editors