Pulse: Olympics 2016: Q+A: Hugh Long

Think the Olympics won’t work here? Think again, says the ­Wachovia Bank exec

Last month, Hugh Long, ­Wachovia Bank’s Pennsylvania and Delaware CEO, agreed to help lead the campaign to bring the Olympics here in 2016. He’ll head the Finance Committee of Philadelphia 2016, the group put together by Constitution Center founding CEO Joe Torsella and Larry Needle of the Philadelphia Sports Congress. (This magazine is on board, too, as we announced last month; Torsella, out of deference to the U.S. Olympic Committee, declined to comment on the city’s bid.) Long chairs Select Greater Philadelphia, the Chamber of Commerce affiliate charged with luring new business to the region, and has made a strong impression on the city’s power elite. A native Georgian, Long speaks in a droll Southern drawl; he moved here from Atlanta in 2003 and promptly denounced Philadelphia’s tendency to denounce itself. Long says that going after the Olympics fits perfectly with how he sees his new hometown, and that he plans to kick-start Philadelphia 2016 by trying to raise $1 million this fall.
PM: Why are you so enthusiastic about the prospects for bringing the Olympics here 11 years from now?
HL: First of all, there’s a great case to be made. We’ve got more venues already in place than any other candidate. We’ve got the advantage of being a big media market, centrally located. We have a lot of hotel rooms, not just in the city, but throughout the region. We can use the Olympics to sharpen the pencil of SEPTA, the airport and Amtrak. This is also an opportunity to cultivate leaders. There will be some who, right now, are not yet in undergraduate school, and some who are just fresh into their first jobs. That can only be healthy.

Is the chance of winning what attracted you?
We’re in this to win, and I believe we can. But there’s another worthwhile reason to do this. Working on an Olympic effort boosts pride, it’s an aspirational goal with significant benchmarks for us to gauge our progress, and it brings distinction and notoriety to the region. If you don’t believe that, look at the Atlanta experience with the 1996 Games. Atlanta had been seen as a Southeastern regional presence. Today, I’d argue there are more people wanting to move to Atlanta than any other American city. Is there a direct tie to the successful Olympic effort? Seems so to me. I’d love to test that in Philadelphia.

You tried to test the notion elsewhere, didn’t you?
Well, I played a role on the front end of what later became the Washington/Baltimore 2012 Olympic Coalition. The idea was to get Washington and Baltimore working together, which they rarely did. It became an opportunity to bring the region together. I was only there for the initial stages of fund-raising. So I feel like I got my toe, maybe my ankle, maybe part of my leg immersed in it. Now I’m ready to dive in.

So you see pursuing the Olympics as a way to get people to think regionally?
Exactly. How do we bind the 11 counties in the Philadelphia area into a cohesive region? As soon as Joe called me, I knew the Olympic idea was something that could unite across all boundaries.

Historically, Philadelphians have had a hard time seeing ourselves as “world-class.” How do you handle that, going forward?
Ah, yes. I’ve already heard it: “Won’t work.” “Doesn’t work that way here.” “You don’t understand—let me tell you the history.” I have had so many history lessons since I moved here. But you know what? They said that to Billy Payne and Andy Young in Atlanta. I’m sure they told that to somebody in London. I think the way you deal with that is you have some success. At the end of the day, people always want to be on a winning team.

Finally, who is your pick to carry the Olympic torch down Broad Street in 2016?
The good news is, it doesn’t have to be one person. I’d like to see it be the neighborhood business owners who operate businesses in 2016 that didn’t exist here in 2005. I’d like it to be the CEOs of each of those new, large employers that moved to Greater Philadelphia who were not here in 2005. I’d like it to be some students who, instead of moving out of Philadelphia after they got their education here, decided to stay and improve our quality of life.