Sunday, August 4, 1996
Olympics? Here? Is Nick Vehr nuts?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

After watching the Olympics in Atlanta for two weeks, I have only one question.

Is Nick Vehr out of his mind?

Traffic jams, $15 burgers, a bomb, wall-to-wall people. And he wants to do the same thing to Cincinnati? Just think, if he gets his way, you too can commute with 5 million visitors.

''In every city that ever got the games, they had a passion. And that's what we need here,'' Mr. Vehr said, announcing he'll leave city council to lead a campaign to bring the games here in 2008.

Former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young calls the Olympics a $5 million windfall.

Whose wind? Where does it fall?

Cinergy Corp., which already coughed up $150,000, must think something will blow its way. Well, the networks have to plug the TV cameras in somewhere. Don't be surprised if Delta thinks it's a good idea, too.

VIP boosters

A very fancy group of people has caught Mr. Vehr's Olympic spirit - Procter & Gamble's Robert Wehling, banker Michael Keating and Cincinnati Bell Chairman Charles Mechem among them. If the Olympics comes to town, I won't look for them to be waiting at the bus stop with the crowds.

As for that spirit, I'd love to hear what the ancient Greeks would say about terror-stricken little girls whacking their heads on the balance beam. Not to mention synchronized swimming and ballroom dancing. By the time 2008 rolls around, we'll probably be fielding an Olympic canasta team. And somebody will have paid a gazillion dollars for the right to put his company logo on the back of the cards.

People who like the idea of chasing the Olympics for Cincinnati point to the facilities we'd get. Just what we need, a swimming pool the size of Tallahassee. When all else fails, of course, we will be told that being picked as the site will once and for all ensure our place as a world-class city. That's if all runs smoothly.

Otto Budig, who's on the board of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, is just back from London and says, ''The British newscasters are trashing Atlanta.'' And the British sort of like us. Can you imagine what the French are saying?

Some of the grousing comes from the very people who probably worked hardest to bring the Olympics to Atlanta - restaurateurs, retailers and bar owners. The bonanza has just not materialized for them. People are there to see the athletes, not to dine and dance and shop. They're going to the games, then back to their rooms to sleep.

World-class wooing

Nick Vehr will work hard. Lots of money will be spent. Much sucking up will be done worldwide.

When the final selection is made, writes John Tayman in Outside magazine, the International Olympic Committee ''often simply rewards the city that pitches the strongest woo, distributes the most thoughtful gifts, and bangs, Elmer Gantry style, the jangliest tambourine.''

Oooh, that doesn't sound like our style at all. So, maybe we'll change our style. For sure, if we get the Olympics in 2008, our city will change. Just ask Atlanta.

It won't just be three congested weeks that summer. It will be the years before, when every decision to build something will revolve around its possible use in the Olympic Games.

Instead of trying to get 5 million people once, why don't we concentrate on getting a lot of people to come here all the time? Conventions, a nice clean industry, may bring the occasional fez to town. But no smokestacks. They spend about $70 million a year here, despite a convention center that's dwarfed by the ones in Columbus and Indianapolis.

Tourists mostly use things we already have, things we use ourselves. Hotels. The zoo. Kings Island. The Reds. Restaurants. The art museums. Not one of these ''facilities'' suffers from crowding.

If somebody as ambitious and as impassioned and as well-connected as Nick Vehr is going to spend his time on something, why not something we can keep?

If the rest of us don't ask that question, then we are out of our minds.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.