Get ready to party when the Olympics return to Salt Lake City. | News | Salt Lake City Weekly

Get ready to party when the Olympics return to Salt Lake City. 

Light the Fire Within

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks at Olympic Plaza on Dec. 1, 2023. - TANZI PROPST—PARK CITY MUNICIPAL COPRPORATION
  • Tanzi Propst—Park City Municipal Coprporation
  • Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall speaks at Olympic Plaza on Dec. 1, 2023.

Editor's note: The following article was originally published as part of City Weekly's 2024 City Guide, out now in print and available online.

With the possible exception of 1869, when the transcontinental railroad came together at Promontory Summit, the coolest thing to ever happen in Utah was the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. And in 2034, unless something goes catastrophically wrong, Utah will get to do it again.

I was 15 and living in Ogden when the games first came to town. And like any Utahn, I have my personal list of magical moments: waiting in the freezing cold on Ogden's 25th Street for the torch relay at Union Station; seeing Brooks & Dunn perform on the Medals Plaza; watching Belarus upset Sweden in Men's Hockey; and, later, taking a school field trip to a Paralympic sledge hockey game, still one of the most thrilling live sporting events I've ever witnessed.

That's not even my full list. The games were simply everything, everywhere, all at once. There they were, wrapped around the facades of downtown skyscrapers. There they were in the Roots berets and collectible pins and volunteer coats that infected local fashion. There they were around every corner, down every alley, under your bed and outside your door. For weeks, both before and after the event itself, the eyes of the entire world were on Utah and the exposure forever changed the state for the better.

Now that I'm older and living in Salt Lake City proper, my excitement for the games has only grown, and not just because I want my son and his generation to have the same experiences I did. I also want legitimate public transit so future Utahns aren't forced to drive everywhere. I want liquor and land use laws that allow neighborhood bars to thrive and that allow adults to socialize responsibly. I want a vibrant city center where locals and visitors enjoy spending their time and treasure, with an economy steady enough to fund critical services like education, affordable housing and environmental repair.

There's no guarantee we'll get those things with the Olympics—but I guarantee they don't happen without the Olympics. The wheels of government simply grind too slow and are too prone to stagnation when left to their own devices. Every now and then, you gotta recharge the batteries if you want to get good things done.

People are right to maintain caution and skepticism toward the games, but there's also legitimate reasons why Utah is in a better position than other hosts. Legacy venues are in relatively good condition, needing upgrades and facelifts but no wholesale rebuilds. And the new elements that do need to be constructed can double as permanent community assets, something Mayor Erin Mendenhall noted in her recent State of the City address when she said the 2034 Medals Plaza wouldn't necessarily revert to being a parking lot after the games, as the 2002 plaza at 300 West and North Temple did.

Utah is also facing an acute housing crisis, and the leadup to the next games ensures a decade of sustained development attention right where it belongs—in our dense and densifying urban centers rather than the sprawling suburban periphery.

To put it bluntly, Utah built many things wrong in the past and the necessity of preparing for the Olympics gives us a chance to build things better, or at least less bad. That's what a second Olympics means for our city and many cities throughout the state—a fighting chance at a better future.

But who cares about all that ... because it's going to be fun! Yes, there will be costs and yes, there will be conflict, and, yes, there will be tRafFiC, but there will also be more parties, more concerts, more celebrity sightings, more swag and more events with more tickets than organizers even know what to do with. And when it's over, Salt Lake City will be a bigger, brighter and a more globally notable version of itself, until we do it all over again in another 20 years!

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About The Author

Benjamin Wood

Benjamin Wood

Lifelong Utahn Benjamin Wood has worn the mantle of City Weekly's news editor since 2021. He studied journalism at Utah State University and previously wrote for The Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News and Entertainment Weekly

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