People Feel It: Olympics Reached Out and Touched L.A.

Times Staff Writer

The flame is out. But the glow is still there. At least that's the recent opinion of a citizen of Los Angeles.

After a holiday trip to Canada, Dan Wolf said:

"Our friends and in-laws only wanted to talk about one thing--the Los Angeles Olympics. My father-in-law kept saying: 'Man, that must have been an exciting time.' "

It was--and then some. The 23rd Games affected every life they touched. And, plainly, they also changed Los Angeles.

But is the transformation permanent? What differences in the city's self image have been made? In brief, what did the Los Angeles Olympics mean to Los Angeles?

One year after the event, everybody who was present last summer wants to talk about it.

"There's a pride in Los Angeles that wasn't here before," a USC research professor, Dr. Selwyn Enzer, said. "What you're hearing today among (local) policy people is this: 'We did it. And we did it in a Class-A manner.' The people of Los Angeles didn't have that role model before."

Wolf, a Los Angeles County executive, agrees. "Nobody here, or in the East, thought we could pull it off," he said. "Our self-esteem has taken a perceptible jump."

David Wilcox, vice president of Economics Research Associates, said: "The Games proved how enormously rich and diversified this city is. The image L.A. has of itself today is unique. It believes it can do anything.".

Coliseum Manager Jim Hardy said: "What we gained was a sense of community. Before, L.A. had been known as a collection of suburbs. Last summer, we became a city. The willingness of throngs from every neighborhood to volunteer, to participate, unified the community."

In the opinion of Jim Hurst, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau, the only thing that has improved more dramatically than the city's self-image is its international image.

"The Olympics changed the world's picture of L.A.," Hurst said. "Thirteen months ago, it was an unlovely picture. When Europeans and Asians thought of Los Angeles in those days, they thought of a mammoth gridlock. They had a vision of crowds of motorists sitting still in their cars, choking in heavy smog on every freeway, with nobody moving but the terrorists."

That Los Angeles was hard to sell to any tourist. Hotel rooms sat vacant. One popular westside restaurant had cancellations for 132 in one night. During what should have been (and was) the city's most spectacular summer ever, the number of tourists fell far short of projections.

But in 16 magical days, as if by magic indeed, the terrorists and the smog disappeared--along with the gridlock--and because the world was watching, Los Angeles' tourist business this year is booming again.

"We had predicted a safe, happy summer all along," Lt. Dan Cook, a Los Angeles Police Dept. spokesman, said. "The media wouldn't buy it and spread a false story. I tried to tell them we'd dissipate the traffic jams with one-way streets. I reminded them that terrorism is against the law. And I said I would personally take care of the weather. They just wouldn't believe me."

So in a sense, Los Angeles' hotelmen and restaurateurs and other merchants lost part of a year. But thanks to the Olympics, they're more than getting it back.

Said Hurst: "We're selling L.A. based on the way it staged the Games--and the world is buying. Every positive statistic is up, from hotel reservations to inquiry mail. Our inquiry mail is up 50% and has taken all the funds we had budgeted for it. The bad dream is over."

For which Los Angeles can thank Los Angeles.


As a production, the 1984 Games were so successful that they have raised some fundamental questions about the years ahead.

Should the people of this city be content with nothing more than the memory of a job well done?

Or, inspired by the Olympics, should Los Angeles go to work on some of its more compelling problems? There are a lot of them, and the Games raised a lot of money.

"I'm sometimes asked, what did the Olympics really mean to our community?" Supervisor Kenneth Hahn said. "And my answer is this: Nobody will know until the (Organizing Committee's) $225 million surplus is finally spent. You can't measure the impact of an event like an Olympics by asking people if they had a good time. The only impact that counts will be made by all that money."

Understandably enough, the civic leaders of this area think most of the surplus should be reinvested in the area.

"The way I see it, the Committee has a moral obligation to invest any surplus funds in L.A.," Hardy said. "It was the people here who made the Olympics successful."

To which Hahn added: "Seventy percent of those who bought tickets and attended the Games live in Greater L.A. Close to 100% of the volunteers--the unsung heroes of the Olympics--also live here. So it seems obvious to me that the bulk of the surplus should be plowed back into this community. The Olympics were beautifully organized, true, but the organizers didn't put up any money. Most of the money for those expensive tickets was put up by L.A. folks."

Hahn foresees the day when surplus Olympic funds, properly invested, would turn up a future Olympic medal winner or two on Los Angeles playgrounds.

"If we do this thing right, it's inevitable that we'll find some new Olympic champions," he said. "We might even find another Sandy Koufax or Jackie Robinson. And in the meantime, we'll be providing healthy, good, clean fun for thousands of youngsters. It's exciting just to think about it."


Those who remember earlier American sports festivals suggest that, not too long ago, the 1932 Olympics made an impact on Los Angeles reminiscent of the 1984 Games.

"But in time, much of the fervor was lost," Olympic historian Bill Schroeder said.

A USC social psychologist, Dr. Scott Fraser, fears that the 1984 Olympics are also destined to become a fading, distant memory. Like Hahn and others, he thinks the basic value of the Games is that they created new vistas and opportunities for Los Angeles.

"The good fellowship we felt in this community (last summer) is worth sustaining," Fraser said. "But it is already diminishing, and it will disappear if there aren't some reinstigations. Out of sight is out of mind. What we need are (Olympic-type) summer activities and other activities that will reinforce the feeling we remember."

Fraser doesn't doubt that Los Angeles was on a high during the '84 Olympics.

"(It was) kind of like a cognitive, visual, auditory amphetamine," he said.

And that's worth keeping. "The question," Fraser said, "is how to keep it."

Coliseum manager Hardy doesn't hold out much hope.

"The thing that makes the Olympics what they are is the word Olympics," he said. "There isn't much (fan) support for other kinds of track meets, swim meets, amateur boxing cards or other Olympic activities. There just aren't many track fans or gymnastic fans. As wonderful and as successful as the Games were, they're over. They have passed from a beautiful experience to a beautiful memory. It was truly written, 'This too shall pass.' "

Wilcox, the economist from with Economics Research Associates, was asked if he subscribes to Fraser's view or Hardy's. He leaned toward Fraser's.

"International sports festivals are a fact of life in Europe," he said. "They're held every couple of years over there under the auspices of the same federations that run the Olympic programs. And they're very successful, drawing large crowds. I don't know why such events wouldn't be well supported here, too."

Among those concurring is USC's Enzer, associate director of the business school's Center for Futures Research.

"It (the memory of the Games) can be a rallying point from now on," Enzer said. "The Olympics changed Los Angeles from a large small town into a large big town. And, they changed one's opinion of what one is able to do."

As the manager of the arena that has been the principal home for American Olympics twice in this century, Hardy said he would welcome sellout crowds for European-type international festivals. But he cautioned:

"There are many differences between American and European sports fans. The sports promoters over there don't have competition from baseball or college football. Realistically, I think the Olympics are over for most Olympic-type events in this country--if you're talking about mass appeal and massive crowds."


Economics Resource Associates is the firm that made the fiscal projections for the 1984 Olympics three years ago. And, said Wilcox, "Revenue and attendance met or exceeded our projections in every instance."

Thus, asked for a dollars-and-cents estimate of what the Games meant to Los Angeles, Wilcox could and did say: "A billion dollars."

ERA, to begin with, had projected an economic impact of $948 million. The actual 1984 figure, Wilcox said, was $1,097,000,000 in what he calls "onetime primary additions to the Los Angeles economy" during a 12-month period, as stimulated by the Olympics.

This compares with what Super Bowl XIX meant to San Francisco last January, when the game made an estimated four-day economic impact of $113,563,734.

How accurate is a financial judgment of this kind?

"I have my doubts about all such figures," said Bill Boyarsky, The Times' city-county bureau chief. "The Olympics did a lot for L.A., and the Super Bowl was great for San Francisco, but the dollar numbers (released by the promoters) are soft. I don't find them conclusive."

In Florida, where Super Bowl XVIII pumped an estimated $90 million into the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg economy, a veteran newspaperman agreed with Boyarsky.

"Most people who have looked into it call those kinds of figures malarkey," said Hubert Mizell, sports editor of the St. Petersburg Times. "The Super Bowl gave this community invaluable exposure, but as usual, the dollar estimate was exaggerated."

Wilcox insists, nevertheless, that his Los Angeles-area revenue estimates for the 1984 Olympics are not only sound, but conservative.

"We didn't count any air travel," he said. "We didn't include the receipts at any other entertainment venues. We didn't count the extra TV set or the extra can of beer that might have been sold here because of the Olympics--although we know there was plenty of that kind of thing. We only counted specific (Olympic) expenditures."

He said these included, among other things, $600 million by Games visitors for food, beverages, L.A.-area transportation, accommodations, souvenirs, merchandise and Games tickets, in addition to $466 million by the Organizing Committee for operations and facilities plus other Olympic-related expenditures by Los Angeles residents.

About half the 600,000 out-of-state visitors stayed in private homes. The Olympics created 25,000 jobs. And payrolls increased by $49 million, Wilcox said.

Cultural activities, generating another $16 million, attracted 1,276,000 spectators. Olympic Games attendance totaled 4,734,000 paid, plus 500,000 complimentary passes for teams, officials and the press.

In economic terms, the effects of the $1 billion stimulus to the local economy have by now evaporated.

"It doesn't take long," Wilcox said. "That's why we say the most valuable Olympic impact was made by human beings. More than 325,000 people participated in some way."


In permanent benefits, Los Angeles, as the host to the 23rd Games, gained tangibly in several ways.

"The Olympics were the most important thing that ever happened to this campus," a USC sociologist, Dr. Carlfred Broderick, said. "We have a first-class physical plant now."

USC was a landlord during the tournament, renting out some of its facilities as one of the Olympic Villages. This spurred Trojan alumni to also contribute for campus improvements. And the result was an impressive facelift.

"For several years, the most prominent feature of the campus had been our abandoned streets and curbs," Broderick said. "(But with the Olympics coming, we) hired a grounds architect who re-landscaped and re-designed the place. And now it's a pleasing mix of plazas, buildings, parks, benches, fountains and so forth."

Nearby, the Olympics also invested $7 million in the Coliseum. The old stadium could, of course, have used much more, but Hardy said that's all the Organizing Committee would--or will yet--invest.

There have been other long-term benefits, Wilcox said, pointing to new facilities developed for the Olympics in several locations.

"Furthermore, private interests such as Pacific Bell and the media also gained with capital improvements," he said. "For instance, ABC increased its broadcast capability considerably."

Times circulation was up 90,000 during the Olympics. And, said Times Executive Vice President Vance L. Stickell, the newspaper's special Olympic sports sections generated more than $10.3 million in new advertising revenue.

Conceivably, the gains by the Los Angeles Police Dept. were the most significant of all.

A writer involved in police coverage, Boyarsky, said: "The Olympics were a morale booster for the department. The rise in police self-approval came after a period in which they had been under fire in several controversies. With a solid Olympic performance, they tuned out the antagonism that had been building up."

In fact, Boyarsky said, many other city departments benefited from "positive efforts" during the Games.

"They were called on to do something important against a deadline," he said, "and they did."

Even better, they knew immediately that they'd won.

"Public servants usually have to wait awhile," he said, "to find out if they have been as successful as they see themselves. There was no time lag this time."

Commercially, the '84 Games remain a hit.

"It's important to business people when an event like this runs smoothly," said Arthur Le Brun, regional director for Eastman Kodak. "People are happier. They buy more merchandise--more film. And this was a smooth-running Olympiad."

In New York, Leonard Matthews, formerly of Young & Rubicam, now president of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, said:

"The 1984 Olympics brought some excitement to the advertising community. There is always a mixed reaction to this kind of promotion, (which) disrupts normal scheduling. But this time, there were important creative and innovative gains for the (advertising) profession and particularly for those in L.A."

In the view of USC sociologist Broderick, intangibles provided Los Angeles with most of its real gains last summer.

"The Olympics made it unpopular to be a cynic here," he said. "We all took a vicarious pride (in the Games' success)--as if the Dodgers had just won a pennant. Equally important, the Los Angeles Olympics made patriotism popular again."

It is also clear now that, in addition, they've brought a renewed interest in the Coliseum itself.

"Since the Olympics, buses have been queuing up here every day," said the Coliseum's Hardy. "Everybody in America, it seems, saw the Opening and Closing Ceremonies on TV--and now they all want to see the place personally. It's enough to make you think the Coliseum is doing for L.A. what the Colosseum did for Rome."

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