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Culture

Salt Lake City Spruces Up for Olympic Gala

The finishing touches are being applied to a scrubbed Salt Lake City, as all eyes turn to the rugged peaks of Utah starting February 8, 2002, when it hosts the Winter Olympics.

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The spires of the Mormon Temple Square rise against a giant poster of a figure skater in downtown Salt Lake City

It’s hardly surprising that the "great outdoors" is Salt Lake City’s calling card.

Pristine snow capped peaks, layered rock formations, mountainous valleys, canyons, lush forests and vegetation, the nearby Rocky mountains and ski resorts make it a natural for an event such as the Winter Olympics.

Nestled at the foot of the over 12,000 feet high rugged Wasatch Mountains, the capital of the western American state of Utah is almost hidden from view by alpine peaks.

Situated between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean, it’s being touted as the "place to visit", even before the start of the Winter Olympics.

Aware that the city will be choked once the Olympics begin, journalists and tourists are already making a beeline to the city and the surrounding area for a pre-Olympic glimpse.

Gleaming infrastructure and new skyline

Visitors to the city will find tall modern buildings competing with the rugged peaks to form a new skyline.

The city has been gearing up for the World Olympic games for the past six years. And the results are evident in the form of booming infrastructure.

Building sites have given way to plush, new hotels and guesthouses, nightclubs, cafes and bars, an up-market retail and entertainment complex on the city’s west side and the largest botanical garden in North America featuring the world’s largest man-made waterfall.

$ 500,000 was spent on Salt Lake City’s new "wayfinding system", so visitors don't get lost.

More than 260 new signs have already sprung up in the downtown area, pointing out tourist attractions, historic areas and shopping.

The Utah Olympic Park, about 25 minutes from the city centre has already been thrown open to visitors. During the Games, the park will host bobsled, skeleton, luge and ski jumping events.

Organising the mammoth event

But apart from all the modernising and polishing of Salt Lake City into a throbbing metropolis, worthy of hosting the grand Winter Olympics, it’s clear that pulling off the event itself will be a logistical nightmare.

About a million visitors are expected to descend upon the city starting February 8, almost doubling the population for three weeks. Which leads to the horrific prospects of snarling traffic jams and clogged roads.

Authorities in Utah have already spent $ 1 billion on upgrading the transportation system– a new freeway has been completed, all twelve lanes on interstate 15 are now open and a new 15-mile long light rail system called TRAX is hoped to make for better connections from downtown Salt Lake.

A vast shuttle system with parking lots and 100 traffic cameras linked to the internet so motorists can keep tab on road conditions, are also in place.

Winter Olympics - economic boom?

The Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce estimates that the Olympic Games will raise about $3 billion to $4 billion.

But most experts believe that only Salt Lake City will directly benefit from the Games. Economists say the fiscal surge will not last more than three months.

And this time, the cost of hosting the games has been so high - $ 1.9 billion this year alone, that some are even asking whether it’s all worth the effort.

Security concerns

Security arrangements are also proving to be a bit of a damper on the hopes of an economic boom in the city. As a result of the September 11 attacks, security will be doubled this year.

For some business, heightened security will make work difficult. Pizza delivery joints and Fedex workers, for example, dread the traffic nightmare ahead.

And Utah’s hopes that Olympics tourists would stray to enjoy the spectacular scenery in the south have been dashed. Since the attacks, aviation during the Games has been heavily restricted.

And residents are worried that the international attention of the high-profile event, might invite terrorism.