SALT LAKE CITY, January 2012--Having the benefit of 10 years hindsight, it's safe to say Salt Lake City, host of the XIX Olympic Winter Games, truly took advantage of being on the world's stage those 17 magical days in February 2002. The spirit that was at the center of the Games, along with the lasting infrastructure and ongoing economic and cultural legacy, has helped transform Salt Lake into a highly sought-after destination and has catapulted it to "world city" status.
"Winning the bid to host the Olympics was a long-term investment in Salt Lake and was decades in the making," said Deedee Corradini, mayor of Salt Lake City during the bid process of and preparation for the 2002 Games. "That effort was the cornerstone of our vision for the future of Salt Lake City and the state of Utah. I believe that investment has paid off tenfold, if not more, and I'm proud of what we as a community were able to accomplish, and where it has taken us."
For those who haven't been to Salt Lake in the past few years, they are in for an eye-opening experience, whether it's on the nearby ski slopes, the sleek TRAX light-rail train or FrontRunner, linking cities along the Wasatch Front. Since hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games of 2002, this city of more than 180,000 has gone from good to great. With over $2 billion in construction projects in the final stages in the central business district alone ─ including the March 2012 completion of City Creek Center, an ambitious mixed-use redevelopment covering 23 acres in the heart of downtown ─ Salt Lake is joining the ranks of the major metropolitan centers of the West.
"The Olympics have moved our community 10 to 20 years ahead in our effort to become a great American city," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "Much of what we enjoy today is a direct result of the many people whose vision and persistence allowed us to successfully host the 2002 Olympic Games, a platform on which we've been able to build upon, further enhancing the experience of locals and visitors."
Salt Lake's Olympic facilities continue to be relevant today. As part of the fast-tracked projects in anticipation of the Games, the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center has undergone two major renovations: the first in 1999 to house the Olympic Main Media Center and a subsequent, larger expansion in 2006, increased the initial footprint from 339,000 square feet to today's 675,000 square feet.
The warm welcome the world received in 2002 continues today. Numerous business and leisure travelers from around the globe were introduced to Salt Lake during the Olympics. Since hosting the Games, Utah's capital city has seen and enjoyed an explosion of restaurants, bars, business development, cultural offerings and internationally-acclaimed conventions.
In the past 10 years, Salt Lake has successfully hosted Rotary International, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Meeting Professionals International, Outdoor Retailer and numerous other prestigious groups. Just 39 groups held their meetings and conventions at the Salt Palace in 2002, while 68 groups met in the downtown convention center in 2011.
"We were a strong convention city to begin with, and our tremendous infrastructure of hotels, restaurants and attractions were a large part of why we were selected to host the Winter Games," commented Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake. "Hosting the Games elevated our entire community to a world stage where we excelled beyond almost everyone's expectations. This legacy has allowed Salt Lake to become an even more relevant, legitimate city and, ultimately, a world-class convention destination."
Ten years on and Salt Lake is truly enjoying its newfound status as evidenced by Salt Lake's culinary renaissance. Salt Lake now boasts four times the number of nationally acclaimed, award-winning restaurants and chefs than prior to hosting the Games. The emergence of world-class restaurants feature some of American's top culinary talent, from Chef Nathan Powers at Bambara; Chef Ryan Lowder of the acclaimed Copper Onion and the newly opened Plum Alley; and Forage's chefs Bowman Brown (Gary Danko) and Viet Pham (The Fifth Floor) who were recently named Food & Wine magazine's "Best New Chefs."
Helping to fuel its burgeoning and diverse nightlife scene, Utah's arcane liquor laws have also been overhauled. Gone are the days of private club membership; patrons can now enjoy Utah's bars and clubs unencumbered, just as they would throughout most of the country. The club and music scene has exploded from a few haunts to multiple venues attracting national talent nightly for a highly diverse patronage.
Salt Lake's cultural arts offerings remain world-class and are growing. Salt Lake City performing arts received a boost from the 2002 Cultural Olympiad and are a vital component of the thriving Utah arts scene. Salt Lake is one is just one of a few cities its size to boast professional symphony, opera and ballet companies. Performances are held nightly on countless stages like the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and Capitol Theater, and plans are on tap for a new $110 million performing arts center in the heart of downtown to host first-run traveling Broadway shows. Salt Lake regularly hosts numerous Broadway Across America musicals, not to mention NBA basketball and World Cup soccer. And you can ski world-class mountains with the Greatest Snow on Earth® the same day as enjoying an evening performance, an experience truly unique to Salt Lake and quite literally the world's largest ski town.
Without a strong infrastructure, Salt Lake would not have been able to host the Games, and the lasting legacy is one that has had a snowball effect on the luxury lodging industry. Salt Lake is now home to a myriad of examples of top-tier lodging garnering national acclaim, including the Hotel Monaco and Grand America Hotel, a five-star property whose completion was fast-tracked for the Olympic Games. To enhance Utah's chances of winning the Olympic bid, civic and Olympic leaders urged the Holding family to build a world-class hotel in Salt Lake City. Today, The Grand America Hotel remains Salt Lake City's only AAA Five Diamond hotel.
Spurred on by its hosting of the Olympics and Paralympics, Salt Lake began reinventing itself over the past decade. It started with improved infrastructure leading up to the Games: rebuilt freeways, airport and convention center expansions, and a major light-rail system (TRAX), all of which enhanced the Olympic experience and created a lasting legacy, making Salt Lake more accessible and desirable than ever. Not to rest on its laurels, Salt Lake is making an even greater investment in its future as well. Thanks to its greater-than-expected ridership, Utah Transit Authority's TRAX system is anticipating multiple line extensions in 2012 and 2013, including the completion of the airport TRAX line, allowing visitors to be downtown in just 20 minutes; the I-80 and I-15 freeway corridors were recently expanded and improved; and Salt Lake City just announced a $1.8 billion airport redevelopment, making the term "world city" truly applicable.
Benefiting from Olympic exposure, Utah's business climate has also enjoyed substantial growth, particularly in the number of outdoor recreation companies that have either relocated or expanded their operations throughout the state. Throughout the Wasatch Front and Back, outdoor recreation companies are now enjoying their new headquarters and the ability to product test their gear on the famed Utah slopes and mountains surrounding Salt Lake.
Visit Salt Lake is a private, non-profit corporation responsible for the promotion of Salt Lake as a convention and travel destination. Visit Salt Lake's mission is to improve the area economy by attracting and providing support to conventions, leisure travelers and visitors while being a leader in environmental responsibility. Salt Lake is a unique fusion of metropolitan city and quaint mountain town; the towering Wasatch Mountains that embrace Salt Lake offer a dramatic backdrop to the vibrancy and activities of downtown.