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Special Price

Olympic games will cost the city, bring wave of business

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When the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Games descend upon Idaho next month, Boise is poised to garner 75 percent of a potential $11 million windfall generated by the influx of people coming to watch and participate in the games. The substantial figure is based on the fact that Boise will be the venue for three-fourths of the activities associated with the games.

But while the games are a welcome and much-needed revenue boon for Boise's private businesses, many of which have been struggling as the recession deepens, the games, which begin Feb. 7, will cost the City of Boise a chunk of change.

At its Jan. 13 work session, the Boise City Council heard a sobering report from Mayor David Bieter's office detailing the fiscal impact the games will have on the city. Specifically, the city will have to spend money on police, fire, and parks and recreation services to provide for additional public safety demands during the games. In response, the council voted to tap into its coffers by as much as $100,000 above and beyond the $50,000 allocated in June.

The expenditures are prompting questions as to whether local businesses, and not taxpayers, should be paying the tab.

"It's a tough position for the City to be in. They'll get criticized if they do help out, they'll be criticized if they don't," said Bobbie Patterson, executive director of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Patterson defended the Council's decision and noted an economic study by the Idaho Department of Commerce which predicted that as much as $50 million will be spent in the Treasure Valley during the games.

"Some of that will ripple back into the system in the form of sales tax [revenue]," Patterson said.

The investment analogy gets dicey, however, if certain VIPs who were invited to the games actually visit The City of Trees. During the council meeting, Theresa McLeod, the mayor's assistant for special projects, reported that First Lady Michelle Obama and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a special-needs child, are two of a number of celebrities and dignitaries invited to attend the games. If they accept the invitation, additional Boise police would be called on to assist with security, potentially causing costs to rise.

"It's possible [the police] could come back asking for something more, but if they do come back, I don't anticipate that it will be an enormous amount. I never perceived this as being an open-ended thing." Council Member Maryanne Jordan said. "The bigger picture is that businesses that benefit from this can keep people working. In my mind, this is a benefit to the taxpayer."

Monies directed to support the games will be drawn from the city's contingency fund.

The largest chunk of the additional $100,000 will be spent to reimburse Ice World for the $44,000 loss in business that will hit the East Boise skating facility when it hosts an 11-day speed skating competition for the games..

As things stand now, Boise police will spend up to $54,350 in support of the games, and the fire department will need up to $25,657 to cover its costs. As much as $18,113 will be footed by the Mayor's Office so City Hall can promote the games: plans include hanging large decorative banners on the main entrance of City Hall publicizing the Special Olympics.

McLeod said that the Special Olympics may split that bill.

Despite the expenses, the council remains excited the games are being held in Idaho.

"The games will mean a lot of things to Boise," Jordan said. "This is going to showcase Boise as a world-class facility for events. It means a lot economically, especially at this time. It's a fortuitous event."