For a second or two last week, it all seemed so tantalizing.
Pittsburgh 2024. Host of the summer Olympics. A player on the world stage on a par with metropolitan leviathans like London and Beijing. Legions of international visitors being schooled in the intricacies of Pittsburghese and delicacies like pierogies and a Primanti’s sammich.
But, let’s face facts. Even though Pittsburgh city officials received a letter from the United States Olympic Committee Wednesday seeking to gauge their interest in putting together a bid for the 2024 summer Olympics, Pittsburgh was just one of 35 cities across the country to get letters from the USOC. Before Pittsburgh-area residents start to feel too exalted, Rochester, N.Y., also got a letter, as did the leaders of that boiling cauldron of crime, decay and dysfunction known as Detroit.
It certainly doesn’t seem improbable that the summer Olympics will return to North America in 2024. By then, almost 30 years will have passed since the games were in Atlanta – Rio de Janeiro has already been selected for 2016, and the 2020 finalists are Madrid, Istanbul and Tokyo. It’s hard to imagine, though, even if an infrastructure-building bender were to commence tomorrow, that the Pittsburgh region would be ready to host an event on the scale of the summer Olympics by 2024.
First, somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 hotel rooms are needed. The region as a whole has 24,000 right now, just a little more than half the amount needed. Then, an Olympic village would have to be constructed to house 17,000 athletes. Where would it go, how much would it cost and what purpose would it serve after the Olympic circus leaves town? And, sure, there’s PNC Park and Heinz Field, the Consol Energy Center and Petersen Events Center, but more venues would be needed. What would their function be after the Olympics ends?
Above all, Pittsburgh’s transportation system could not handle the crush of humanity that would come with the Olympics. The city’s light rail system isn’t as efficient, speedy or comprehensive as you’ll find in places like Washington, D.C., or Chicago. And if you think traffic on Dormont’s main drag is prone to bottlenecks, in the midst of the Olympics it would be a grinding-to-a-total-halt horror show. Drivers would probably abandon their cars and start walking in frustration.
Pittsburgh has won a couple of Stanley Cups, and some Super Bowl and World Series rings. Olympic rings are, however, almost certainly out of the city’s reach.