Dream big, Pittsburgh. As in Olympic gold.
The invitation from the U.S. Olympic Committee for this city to be among 35 in the country to bid for the 2024 Summer Games is a privilege. More than that, it's an opportunity and Pittsburgh should go for it.
Sure, the odds look long. But who, 11 years prior to 2009, could have conceived of Pittsburgh hosting the G-20 Summit? Not possible, people would have said. Not here, would have been the reaction. Get aht.
Likewise, who, 11 years prior to 1996, could have conceived of Atlanta hosting the Summer Olympics? No doubt not many Atlantans, yet now that city is the capital of the New South and everything has changed. So it could be with Pittsburgh.
We are a city and a region on the rise. Our cultural and educational assets earn national press. Our rivers and skyline are familiar coast to coast. Our neighborhoods are high-quality and affordable. Our health care is first-rate and accessible. Our corporations and foundations are devoted to the community. Our employment and economy are better than the nation's. Our population decline has stopped and, as everyone knows, we're a town that loves sports beyond belief.
No less than President Barack Obama has said time and again that Pittsburgh has a story to tell. Part of that tale is the story of America -- about immigrants and hard work and core beliefs and family, about building something out of nothing and overcoming adversity. What better place in the United States to showcase the Summer Olympics?
But Pittsburgh won't get there by touting its Most Livable City credentials. A realistic bid can come only after hard exploration from a blue-ribbon commission appointed by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. The commission would consist of leaders from universities, government, business, labor, foundations, health care and law enforcement. It would represent people and stakeholders in counties outside Allegheny because something as big as the Olympics must be a regional initiative.
It would be the commission's charge to determine how southwestern Pennsylvania can meet the bid prerequisites: 45,000 hotel rooms (twice what the region has now), a tennis stadium, a track and field stadium, an aquatics center, a velodrome for cycling and an Olympic village for 16,500 athletes and officials.
The professional sports teams and the region's colleges and universities could provide important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to Olympic venues, some of which might be expansions or enhancements to existing facilities rather than new structures.
Admittedly, the tallest mountain to climb may be the estimated $3 billion needed to be ready for the games. But this region and this state have not shrunk from big-ticket development before -- the stadiums and convention center, the parkways and the tunnels, Pittsburgh International Airport, the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
What is needed is a vision and a plan and the right minds around the table to develop a bid within two years.
Cynics will point out that New York and Chicago were rebuffed on recent proposals to host other Summer Games. But that's the point -- they're New York and Chicago, with all the baggage and preconceptions that come with the package.
Southwestern Pennsylvania, on the other hand, has a new story to tell -- and it's not the story of smoke and rust that people expect.
Dream big, Pittsburgh. Go for the gold.