Nashville: Host of the 2024 Olympic Games?

Sufei Wu

This Tuesday Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, along with the mayors of 34 other American cities, received letters from the United States Olympic Committee (U.S.O.C.) to measure interest in making a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympic Games. Quite a few cities, including the smallest city in consideration, Rochester, NY, are most likely disqualified due to venue and housing limitations. The U.S.O.C. has not confirmed that the United States will be seeking to extend a bid, as the last two cities to attempt (New York for 2012 and Chicago for 2016) were eliminated by the International Olympic Committee early in the process.[1]

It is unusual for a city like Nashville, with a population of around 600,000 to be considered, even as a gesture. Nashville’s main constraint is of space and resources, as the U.S.O.C. requires at least 45,000 hotel rooms available exclusively for the games, not including the 31,500 athletes and members of the media to be housed in the Olympic Village. Even with the development of several hotel deals in the next few years, Davidson and the surrounding counties currently can only provide 36,163 rooms. Additionally, Nashville does not possess the public transportation infrastructure, even with the bus transit line planned for Broadway and West End. These limitations, however, have not stopped past mayors from dreaming of such a far-fetched scheme. Thirty years ago, then-Mayor Richard Fulton expressed interested in hosting the 1996 Games, going so far as to contact the U.S.O.C. The bid eventually went to Atlanta, another prominent southeastern city. Atlanta’s costs, however, were only half the $4.8 billion of projected costs for Chicago in its 2016 bid.[2]

So far, Mayor Karl Dean has not expressed any interest in hosting the games, and his office has not yet confirmed receiving such a letter, despite a report by the New York Times. This is perhaps in understanding the unfeasibility of such an endeavor, considering that both New York and Chicago spent $10 million in preparing their bids. He may follow in the steps of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard[3] and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed[4] by publicly declining to bid on the event, citing cost constraints. While the reality of the chance to host the 2024 Olympic Games are slim to none, there might be something to be said for considering the idea, at least for a little while.

Many consider Nashville to be an up-and-coming city, comparable to the sudden trendiness of Atlanta, Dallas, and Seattle. A New York Times piece published in January declared that Nashville is on its way to becoming America’s “it” city. The article cited different events drawing interest to distinct regions like, “Silicon Valley [where] innovation and economic engines drive it. Other times, it’s a bold civic event, like the Olympics, or a cultural wave, like the way grunge music elevated Seattle.”[5] Billy Payne, the Atlanta businessman who led his city’s bid for the ’96 Games, cites the event as the major source of pride of Atlantans, and that the positive effects can still be felt today.[6]

For those reasons it may behoove Nashville to toy with the idea of extending a bid purely to burnish the city’s image as a thriving and relevant metropolis, but 77 year old Nashville journalist John Egerton should perhaps have the final word. When asked about Nashville’s rise to trendiness he says, “[p]eople are too smug about how fortunate we are now. We ought to be paying more attention to how many people we have who are ill-fed and ill-housed and ill-educated.”[7] With the honor of recognition for the U.S.O.C., and indeed with Nashville’s turn as the city-du-jour, comes the danger of flashily bolstering the city’s assets while ignoring the less affluent, attractive, and most needy citizens.