The U.S. Olympic Committee recently sent a letter to 35 cities – including Philadelphia – in an attempt to feel out potential sites for a 2024 Summer Olympics bid. Philadelphia in 2006 bid to host the 2016 Games, but was eliminated by the USOC.
"I think that we are definitely, in our mind, on a short list of cities that have the capacity to take something like this on," said director Larry Needle of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, a division of the city Convention and Visitors Bureau.
"Going back to our bid effort for the 2016 Games, when we were one of five U.S. finalist cities, the feedback that we had received from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the consultants involved was very positive, in terms of our viability and the infrastructure that we offer as a community."
The letter states the 2024 Olympics would require an operating budget in excess of $3 billion – not including construction costs – and the chosen host city must have first-class transit hubs and a large room rental capacity.
"We would definitely be able to house the spectators," said Greater Philadelphia Hotel Association President Ed Grose, who estimated there are about 45,000 hotel rooms in the Philadelphia area and 11,414 in Center City alone.
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"When we looked at this back in 2006, we met the requirements, and since then we've added inventory, so it would be easy for us. I hope it happens."
Philadelphia International Airport is also ready. "We have 620 nonstop daily seasonal flights to over 120 cities, including more than 58 nonstop flights to 36 international destinations," said communications director Victoria Lupica.
But Andrew Stober, chief of staff for the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities, cautioned that some improvements would still be required for the city to be a contender.
"Every city that hosts the Olympics winds up making significant investments in their transportation infrastructure in order to support the incredible volume of people who are coming to both participate as athletes and as spectators, so I'm sure Philadelphia would have to do the same," he said.
Still, Needle pointed to the South Philadelphia stadiums, which he called "the finest complex of its kind in the country."
"Having all of your major four sports teams together in one fantastic facility that's also close to the city with the tremendous accessibility and parking, it really does, in many, ways give us a leg up on the competition," he said.
"There's no question that that would be a big part of any bid and we would really rely on our great partners at the professional teams to join in and help lead the way in any bid that we're doing. Certainly when we would have more details, I think that's one of the first steps – if not the first – is to sit down with the folks in South Philadelphia and talk through what this would conceivably look like and see if we all agree to move forward."
Local fans were excited by the prospect. "I think it would be a very beneficial thing for the city," said Zackary Tyman, who with his brother Cole launched a grassroots campaign three years ago to garner support for Philadelphia as the host of the 2024 Olympic Games.
"I was living in London last year and I was there for the 2012 Olympics. On a personal level, it was one of coolest things I've ever experienced. On a logistics level, an economic level and a political level, it did a lot to benefit the city."
Cole Tyman said he hopes to raise awareness among fans. "This would be another way to show that not just the leaders of the city want it, but people living in the city want it, too."
Stakeholders said Philly is better positioned to take on the challenge now than it was seven years ago.
"I think we certainly continue to grow and evolve as a city in almost every way," Needle said, citing the development of world-class attractions like the Barnes Museum and a renewed push to promote Philadelphia to overseas tourists.
"We have seen those numbers increase at a rapid clip, in terms of international visitation to this area and Philadelphia being even more of an international destination," Needle said. "I think all of those things ultimately play into a decision like this."
"Philadelphia has become more of a global city since 2006," Zackary Tyman said. "Even though it's only been seven years, I think Philadelphia as city has really changed its mindset – how it approaches world cultures is different."
Breaking it down
According to the United States Olympic Committee letter, the host city would need:
>> 45,000 hotel rooms.
>> An Olympic Village that sleeps 16,000 and has a 5,000-person dining hall.
>> Operations space for more than 15,000 media and broadcasters.
>> An airport that can handle thousands of international travelers.
>> Public transportation service to venues.
>> Roadway closures to allow Games-related transportation.
>> A workforce of up to 200,000 people.