Today: Last Update:

  • O'Hara teen pumps up Pittsburgh for 2020 Olympics


    By Tom Fontaine
    Saturday, August 1, 2009

    If you're a global event with 20 in your name, Pittsburgh wants you.

    Local officials are working to get Pittsburgh ready for the upcoming Group of 20 economic summit, and now an O'Hara teen is trying to build interest in bringing the 2020 Summer Olympics to town.

    Over his summer break, James Santelli, who is entering his senior year at Fox Chapel Area High School, created a blog, Facebook page and Twitter account dedicated to Pittsburgh bidding for the 2020 games. With the help of recent Syracuse University graduate Daniel Kimicata, 23, of Forest Hills, a Web site is in the works.

    The Group of 20 summit scheduled for late September will bring government leaders and finance ministers from 19 nations and the European Union to Pittsburgh, along with thousands of protesters and news media. But that event lasts two days.

    The Olympics could last up to three weeks and attract delegations from more than 200 nations.

    "We're serious about this," said Santelli, 17.

    He estimated it would cost $3 billion to $4 billion to stage an Olympiad in Pittsburgh, with much of the money coming from private sources as it did for the 1996 games in Atlanta.

    Local government leaders aren't on board with Santelli's idea -- at least, not yet.

    "That's news to me," Kevin Evanto, spokesman for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, said about the effort. "Gosh, let's get through the G-20 first, and then we can think about an Olympics."

    Joanna Doven, spokeswoman for Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, agreed. "We haven't thought about anything else, when it comes to big events. Let's talk after the G-20."

    That's fine with Santelli, who said his hopes hinge on the Oct. 2 decision determining which country will host the 2016 Summer Games. In the United States, Chicago is on the short list while Brazil, Spain and Japan are promoting Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo, respectively.

    "If Chicago gets it, this is pretty much all washed away. There would be absolutely no chance of an American city getting the Olympics again in 2020," he said.

    "Let's go, Rio," said Kimicata.

    Costs for some recent Summer Olympiads largely were covered with public money, including the reported $15 billion to stage the 2004 games in Athens and last summer's $40 billion spectacle in Beijing. It took Montreal three decades to pay off billions in debt from hosting the 1976 event.

    Santelli said infrastructure improvements, such as expanding the city's light-rail system to Oakland and Pittsburgh International Airport, "might be in the $1 billion range, but they would provide service for years to come."

    He predicted $850 million would be needed to upgrade or build indoor and outdoor venues, below the $900 million Chicago proposed spending to stage the 2016 Summer Games.

    The biggest venue expense, under Santelli's plan, would be transforming Heinz Field into the main Olympic stadium for opening and closing ceremonies, soccer finals and track and field events, at a cost of $200 million. The good news for those on the Steelers' season-ticket waiting list: the renovation would increase the stadium's seating capacity to 82,000.

    Santelli said response to his plan is generally positive.

    "I've gotten some 'You must be crazy' comments from siblings and family members, but when people take a closer look at the idea, I think they start to see it's possible for Pittsburgh and it would do a lot of good for Pittsburgh," Santelli said.

    Dr. Freddie Fu, chairman of sports medicine at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and head team physician for Pitt athletics, can relate. Fu said he was widely ridiculed after floating the same idea in late 2000.

    "When I proposed it people thought I was nuts, but at the time I thought, if Atlanta can do it, we can do it, too. I still feel the same way. We would have a lot of work to do, but all (host cities) do. We have a lot of things going for us," Fu said.

    But Ed Hula, founder of the Olympics-focused newsletter and Web site Around the Rings, thinks "chances are long for Pittsburgh."

    Even if Chicago doesn't land the 2016 Games, Hula said, "maybe the (U.S. Olympic Committee) would stick with Chicago for a 2020 bid. Otherwise, they would launch a selection process, perhaps similar to the one used to choose Chicago. No small cities such as Pittsburgh made the grade for that selection."