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Special Olympics Winter World Games bring attention, questions to Idaho

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"If I would have known at that time what was involved, it would not have happened," said real estate developer Jim Grossman of his "crazy idea" for Idaho to host the 2009 Special Olympics Winter World Games.

The idea was born just three years ago, at a Special Olympics Idaho fundraiser as Grossman listened to Lyle Nelson, an inspirational speaker, four-time Olympic biathlete, team captain and torch carrier at the games in Calgary.

"My wife said I was kicking her under the table. I should have known right then and there," he said. "I come up with the crazy ideas, and she makes them happen."

The 2009 games had already been awarded to Sarajevo, and the bidding process usually takes years, but after Special Olympics organizers realized the area was still too fractured and dangerous to hold the games there, the Grossmans' idea of bringing the games to Idaho began to solidify.

With the support of then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Grossman approached Maria Shriver—whose mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founded Special Olympics—at a Christmas party at the Schwarzeneggers' Sun Valley home. He simply asked, "can we do this?" and Shriver said she'd see what she could do.

What Grossman and his wife did in one month—including securing monetary commitments of $5 million—stunned the Special Olympics site selection committee. But it was even more impressed with the heart and spirit of the people they met in Idaho. That sealed the deal.

Now, the Idaho games are nearly a reality, and the event promises to bring an influx of not only highly skilled athletes, but some much-needed cash flow into the state.

Between opening ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 7, and closing ceremonies on Friday, Feb. 13, up to 10,000 people from around the world will descend on Idaho, spending time eating, working and sleeping in Boise, Sun Valley and McCall. Athletes from 105 countries account for nearly 2,500 of those visitors, and each will bring with him or her a support staff of coaches, volunteers and family.

To put that in perspective, in the 2000 Census, Garden City was home to roughly 10,000 people. Imagine every man woman and child who resides there renting a car, waving down a taxi, waiting for a bus on Idaho Street, shopping at Boise Towne Square Mall, standing in line at the Idaho Center or Qwest Arena, eating the continental breakfast in a hotel, packing into downtown restaurants for a quick bite, ordering a latte from a local coffee shop among other activities.

It could mean a huge boon to a lagging economy, bringing millions of dollars into the area, especially to Boise where most of the games' international visitors will spend their time. Special Olympics Village will be set up in the heart of downtown Boise at Grove Plaza, where the Special Olympics Festival and the Sports Experience will strive to include the community with a parade of live entertainment and the chance to meet the athletes.

And while organizers have spent more than a year working out the details of lodging, food, transportation and the competitions themselves, the realization that a major international event is coming to Boise seems lost on many Boiseans.

As the national delegations filter into the city and fill area hotels, the reality will begin to dawn on locals as they attempt to go about their daily activities. For area businesses, it might just be a needed shot in the arm.

The Bills

"It's as big as anything that has been here," said Wade Morehead, vice president of operations and support services for the games. "The impact on the state is going to be fantastic."

According to an economic study done in 2006 by the then-Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor, the state could see roughly $42.6 million in direct and indirect economic impacts.

Bruce Schrepple, chief financial officer for the games, estimated that more than $4 million in tax revenue could go directly to the city, county and state.

The Special Olympics organization pays for the room and board of all of the athletes, as well as the heads of national delegations and officials, but volunteers, families and fans will have to pay for their own lodging, food, shopping and entertainment.

Games organizers have been working closely with business organizations like the Downtown Boise Association and the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau to prepare the retail and hospitality industries for the influx of visitors, as well as gathering materials to drive visitors to local businesses.

Organizers and business leaders also see the games as a prime opportunity to showcase the state to national and international media. Between 350 and 500 members of the media are expected to cover the games, according to Heather Hill, vice president of marketing and communications for the Special Olympics World Games.

"This is a one-time event," she said. "We want to showcase the hospitality, the venues and the charm of what Boise and Idaho is about."

And while the games are bringing cash with them, there is also a hefty price tag for hosting the event.

Game organizers set a $31 million fund-raising goal, and Schrepple said they have come very close but are still short. Thanks to the economic downturn, the mix of donation types isn't what the organization planned for, with more businesses and individuals donating labor, equipment and goods rather than cash.

"Frankly, as long as it's budget-relieving [donations], it's just as good," Schrepple said.

When value-in-kind donations are added to cash, donations could total more than $33 million, he said.

The organization recently reported that it's short roughly $400,000 in cash and has scaled down the cost of opening ceremonies and the number of staff to try to make up for the shortfall. Additionally, since registration numbers are not final, officials still aren't sure how much the ultimate lodging and food bill will be.

A few last-minute fundraisers, including the sale and auction of scarves knitted for the games, were part of a final push for cash.

Schrepple said the magnitude of recent donations has been impressive, ranging from food and beverages for athletes, to manpower.

Hewlett-Packard is providing all the technology, including computers, servers and printers, while Boise Inc. has donated the use of its information technologies department to keep things running. Schrepple estimates the donation equates to $400,000 in labor.

The Boise City Council recently approved the spending of up to $100,000 in order to pay for additional police, fire and parks and recreation services during the games. The council had already allocated $50,000 for the games.

The burden is being spread across nearly every law enforcement agency, according to Idaho State Police Lt. Col. Kevin Johnson, safety commissioner for the games.

County, state and city agencies are cooperating to provide the needed manpower, along with federal agencies like the ATF and the FBI. The National Guard will also help provide security during the games.

Schrepple carefully qualified the numbers though, adding that the final impact won't be seen until long after the games close.

The Beds

The obvious question when any guest comes to town is: Where are they going to stay?

When you're talking 10,000 guests over a period of 10 or more days, that becomes a million-dollar question. Literally.

The Special Olympics has reserved blocks of rooms at more than two dozen hotels from downtown Boise to as far out as Nampa. Without accounting for the nearly 5,000 people who the valley can expect as out-of-state spectators and supporters, Morehead estimated the hotel bill for the athletes and delegations alone could be as much as $2 million.

And, said Morehead, while they may not know what to expect, the hospitality sector is ready.

"Even for people who are experienced in the business, it's hard to visualize when you're throwing out numbers," he said. But, "People are very aware," he added.

Boise Visitors and Convention Bureau spent last week hosting a series of sessions to better help inform and prepare hospitality workers for what to expect. Host and educational humorist Randy Morgan gave one audience—made up mostly of hotel and airport workers—advice on how to deal with intellectually challenged visitors, many of whom do not speak a word of English: be patient, avoid hand gestures, use a non-offensive vocabulary and have fun.

Recognizing that accommodation is but one piece of the much larger puzzle, one attendee asked what kind of effect local restaurants could expect to see on business. The short answer is that about 5,000 visitors will be on their own for food. And while they're out looking for a restaurant, thousands of people will no doubt be shopping, said Special Olympics officials.

Eagle will be hosting athletes from Belarus, Ecuador, the Netherlands and Sweden, and businesses have rallied together to host a three-hour walkabout, when athletes can stop in to area businesses and pick up a different memento at each location.

In Boise, the Downtown Boise Association has been working not only to get the word out to businesses but also to get the word out to participants and their families about downtown Boise.

The Special Olympics will distribute 2,400 coupon books with discounts at participating downtown retailers and 5,000 copies of a map and directory of downtown businesses on DBA's behalf.

After months of slow business, many restaurant owners and retailers are hoping for 10 long, hard, busy days.

In the downtown core, retailers say they're as prepared as they can be and many will not be adding extra staff to deal with increased customer traffic. Anthropologie plans to extend business hours, but its Idaho Street neighbors The North Face and Lux Fashion Lounge will stick to business as usual.

Restaurants, on the other hand, are beefing up staff and considering staying open later.

Piper Pub and Grill has added extra staff and has some employees on-call for the first few days until they get a handle on just how busy things will be. The restaurant will, however, remain closed on Sunday.

Lisa Kugel, owner of Moon's Kitchen Cafe, has not only added additional staff to her usual schedule but is considering extending the restaurant's typical breakfast and lunch hours to include dinner as well. But like Morehead, Kugel said it's hard to judge ahead of time just how busy things will be.

"We're not sure what to expect. We know there's a massive influx, but knowing that and seeing it are two different things," said Kugel. "They gave us the numbers, but that doesn't help us gauge how it's going to happen."

The Buses

Traffic woes are an ever-present topic of discussion in the Treasure Valley, but add a few thousand extra people and things could get really interesting.

While Salt Lake City added an impressive rail-based commuter system when it hosted the 2002 Olympics, Idaho Special Olympics World Games organizers are hoping a system of shuttles and buses will get people around town without causing too many headaches.

From the moment athletes and their delegations arrive, it's up to the local organizing committee to make sure they get to where they need to be. Morehead has worked with a team of professionals, as well as area transportation agencies, to create a comprehensive plan.

The area along Front Street at the Grove Plaza in downtown Boise will serve as the main staging area for all transportation, meaning the far right lane between Capitol and Ninth Street will be closed from Saturday, Feb. 7, through Friday, Feb. 13.

Regular shuttles will pick up athletes and coaches from hotels across the valley, delivering them to either the Grove or to competition venues at Expo Idaho, Idaho Ice World and Bogus Basin.

Organizers will be using an armada of 90 coach buses and 60 school buses to move people throughout the 10 days of events.

While athletes will be taken care of, additional members of their national delegations, family, friends, fans and media have to make their own plans. Anyone with credentials can jump on any Valley Ride bus for free throughout the duration of the games.

A limited number of shuttles will be taking special groups to event sites, including day trips to McCall and Sun Valley, but most fans shouldn't plan on being able to hitch a ride. Instead, be prepared to drive yourself.

Planning for the flood of visitors began more than a year ago when organizers began working with airlines to increase the number of seats coming into Boise during the games, Morehead said.

The airlines cooperated and there have been no reports of delegations being unable to get into Boise, even with an estimated 2,400 people arriving between Feb. 1 and 4.

Several national delegations did opt to fly into Salt Lake City, meaning roughly 800 people will be bused to Boise on Friday, Feb. 6.

A caravan of buses will also take athletes and their delegations to McCall and Sun Valley following the opening ceremonies on Saturday, Feb. 7. Each of the caravans will be accompanied by the Idaho State Police, and a snowplow from the Idaho Transportation Department is available to travel with the buses to make sure they can get to their destinations.

Getting around downtown Boise during the games is going to require a bit more attention. Beyond the lane closure on Front Street and the brief closure of Capitol Boulevard on the afternoon of Wednesday, Feb. 4, for the torch run, Johnson said there will simply be more people moving around the area, including many pedestrians.

While buses and shuttles are being scheduled around peak rush-hour periods, Johnson said there could be some traffic issues around the Grove and Expo Idaho.

The majority of people will be leaving from Boise on Saturday, Feb. 14, but Morehead said one of his greatest challenges will come on the evening of Friday, Feb. 13, when he has to get thousands to the Idaho Center in Nampa for closing ceremonies in the middle of rush hour traffic through a construction zone.

It may be wishful thinking, but Morehead is still holding out hope that everyone will carpool that day.

Schedule of Events

Wednesday, Feb. 4

4:45 P.M.

Torch welcome ceremony at Boise City Hall

Friday, Feb. 6

NOON-5 P.M.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

Saturday, Feb. 7

2 P.M.

Opening ceremony at the Idaho Center in Nampa

6:30-9:30 P.M.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

Sunday, Feb. 8

8 A.M.-8 P.M.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

9 a.m.-3 p.m.

Figure skating and ice dance at Qwest Arena

10 A.M.-5:30 P.M.

Speed skating at Idaho Ice World

11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Special Olympics Festival at the Grove Plaza

11 a.m.-5 p.m.

Sports Experience in the Boise Centre

Monday, Feb. 9

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

9 a.m.-5:45 p.m.

Figure skating at Qwest Arena

8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Speed skating at Idaho Ice World

10-11 a.m.

Young Athletes Experience at the Boise Centre

10 a.m.-noon

Global Youth Rally at Taco Bell Arena

4-9 p.m.

Special Olympics Festival at the Grove Plaza

4-9 p.m.

Sports Experience in the Boise Centre

8 p.m.-midnight

Michael Franti and Spearhead Benefit Concert

Tuesday, Feb. 10

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Figure skating practice at Qwest Arena

8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

10-11 a.m.

Young Athletes Experience at the Boise Centre

4-9 p.m.

Special Olympics Festival at the Grove Plaza

4-9 p.m.

Sports Experience in the Boise Centre

Wednesday, Feb. 11

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

9 a.m.-8 p.m.

Figure skating at Qwest Arena

8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Speed skating at Idaho Ice World

9:30-10:30 a.m.

Young Athletes Experience at the Boise Centre

4-9 p.m.

Sports Experience at Boise Centre

Thursday, Feb. 12

8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Figure skating at Qwest Arena

9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Speed skating at Idaho Ice World

4-6 p.m.

Curling Clinic at Idaho Ice World

Friday, Feb. 13

8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Floor hockey at Expo Idaho

8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Speed Skating at Idaho Ice World

9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Alpine events at Bogus Basin

7-9 p.m.

Closing ceremonies at the Idaho Center in Nampa

CELEBRITIES DELEGATIONS IN ATTENDANCE

Vivian Fernandez de Torrijos, First Lady of Panama

Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Amina of Morocco

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Rep. Mike Simpson

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (California)

Maria Shriver, First Lady of California

Vanessa Williams, Actress/Musician

Tom Arnold, Actor/Comedian

Johnny Knoxville, Actor/Comedian

Mariel Hemingway, Actress

Darius Rucker, Musician/Artist

Kenny G., Musician/Artist

Scott Glenn, Actor

Lt. Andy Baldwin, TV Personality (ABC The Bachelor)

Scott Hamilton, Olympic Figure Skater

Bart Conner, Olympic Gymnast

Nadia Comaneci, Olympic Gymnast

Donna de Verona, Olympic Swimmer

Sam Perkins, Former NBA Star

Lucas Radebe, South African football player

Teofilo Cubillas, Peruvian football player

Billy Kidd, Olympic Skier

Casey FitzRandolph, Olympic Speedskater

Carly Patterson, Olympic Gymnast/Singer

Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic Figure Skater

Delegations

Afghanistan

Algeria

Andorra

Argentina

Armenia

Austria

Bahrain

Belarus

Belgium

Bharat

Bolivia

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bulgaria

Canada

Chile

China

Chinese Taipei

Colombia

Comoro Islands

Costa Rica

Croatia

Cuba

Cyprus

Czech Republic

Djibouti

Dominican Republic

Ecuador

Egypt

El Salvador

Finland

Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

France

Georgia

Germany

Gibraltar

Great Britain

Greece

Honduras

Hong Kong

Hungary

Iceland

Indonesia

Iran

Ireland

Isle of Man

Italy

Jamaica

Japan

Jordan

Kazakhstan

Korea

Kuwait

Kyrgyz Republic

Lebanon

Libya

Liechtenstein

Lithuania

Luxembourg

Macau

Malaysia

Mauritania

Mexico

Monaco

Morocco

Montenegro

The Netherlands

New Zealand

Norway

Oman

Panama

Peru

Poland

Puerto Rico

Qatar

Romania

Russia

San Marino

Saudi Arabia

Serbia

Slovakia

Slovenia

Somalia

South Africa

Spain

Sudan

Sweden

Switzerland

Syria

Tajikistan

Trinidad and Tobago

Tunisia

Turkey

Turkmenistan

Uganda

Ukraine

United Arab Emirates

Uruguay

USA

Uzbekistan

Venezuela

Yemen

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