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L.A. hopes its charm is good for a third time

The backers of the 2016 Olympic bid tout the city's Games-readiness to a visiting evaluation committee.

March 03, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

The cooperative weather delivered, and so did retired soccer stars Mia Hamm and Alexi Lalas, talking up the merits of the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Even the traffic was mostly compliant on a sunny Friday morning for a U.S. Olympic Committee evaluation team winding its way through the freeways of Southern California, looking at venues in Carson, Long Beach and downtown Los Angeles.

Who knows what effect an overturned truck on the 710 south could have had on Los Angeles' Olympic bid for the 2016 Summer Games?

Overturning public perception, as well as that of International Olympic Committee members, was and remains the biggest obstacle for L.A. bid officials. The fact that Los Angeles has hosted the Olympics twice before, most recently in 1984, came up repeatedly during the team's two-day visit.

Bob Ctvrtlik, the evaluation commission's chairman, said that the topic has been broached in "direct conversations" with about 100 IOC members. He also said the USOC will have its own polling done to assess public sentiment about the Games.

David Simon, president of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, spelled out exactly how he confronted the third-time issue when quizzed about it by evaluators in closed-door meetings.

"I said, 'Carl Lewis won gold medals in four consecutive Olympic Games in the long jump,' " Simon told The Times. "No one told Carl after the first two times he couldn't try for the third. They didn't give him the gold medal either.

"But he was given the chance to show he could be the best. That's all we're asking. Be open-minded enough to look at our plan and say whether it can be the best. I don't see how that can be disqualifying. When the IOC members say, 'Why give it three times?' I think the answer is: 'Are you willing to look at the plan before you reject it?' "

USOC chief executive Jim Scherr gave Los Angeles strong marks, saying he had "no doubt" it could play host to the Olympics. But a hint of the difficult call -- deciding between U.S. bid city finalists Los Angeles or Chicago -- came from Ctvrtlik, who is also an IOC member.

The USOC will make its choice on April 14.

"You can walk into them," Ctvrtlik said of Los Angeles' venues. "You can touch them. It's easy to envision how they'll perform. Is that something that will push them over the top? We'll just have to see. As we go into Chicago, we'll carefully study their plans as well. Potentially, there could be more risks."

Los Angeles could almost hold the Olympics now, with its venues nearly all in place. Chicago's plans are largely on paper and in computers and thereby harder to grasp.

Tim Leiweke of AEG touted Los Angeles' readiness.

"It shouldn't be about debt, having to spend billions of dollars," he said, adding that 2012 host London "is in a position where suddenly their budget has spiraled to a number that's become very controversial. That should not be what 2016 is about. That's a huge asset for Los Angeles."

Chicago has touted its lakefront and compact nature of the venues, which will be highlighted when the commission conducts a similar visit there next week. Here, it took about 35 minutes to get from Beverly Hills to the Home Depot Center and another 15 from Carson to downtown Long Beach. Long Beach's part in the bid effort is significant, as it includes venues for 11 sports, and could potentially provide another lasting legacy.

Architect Jay Flood showed plans for a permanent pool, a diving well, water park and health club, which would be built in the parking lot next to Long Beach Arena. The site was used for the successful U.S. Olympic swimming trials in 2004, but the pools were temporary ones.

The cost would range from $30 million to $40 million, said Phil Hester, Long Beach's director of Parks, Recreation and Marine. Hester said the development would be a public-private project. City officials and council members have been briefed, but the exact nature of the plan will depend on the April 14 vote.

"Either way, the city is intent on building a facility downtown," he said.

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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