Tom O'Hara thinks the Kenai Peninsula has a great chance to host the 2006 Arctic Winter Games, and if anyone knows the Arctic Winter Games, it's Tom O'Hara.
O'Hara's qualifications as an authority on the games are impressive. He's currently the general manager for the 2004 Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games to be held in Alberta, Canada. Before that, he helped the city of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, successfully bid for the 2000 games and is the bid manager for Whitehorse's bid for the 2007 Canada Winter Games. Additionally, he served on the Arctic Winter Games International Committee for six years.
Now, he's turned his sights on helping the Kenai Peninsula Borough land the games.
O'Hara will work as a consultant to the borough's Arctic Winter Games Bid Committee as it continues to navigate the bid process.
He's in town this week to build community support for the games. Wednesday, he kicked off a busy week of events by speaking to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce. He told the group of assembled business people the peninsula has a legitimate shot at winning the bid, but it will take a lot of work.
"I think your borough is in a strong position to host the games in 2006," he said. "(But) I don't want you to think for one minute it's going to be easy."
O'Hara said just putting together a bid document would require the help of between 100 and 200 volunteers. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. He said in order to stage the games, between 3,500 and 4,000 volunteers would eventually be needed.
That's a lot of people, but O'Hara estimated the volunteer effort would pay for itself in visitors and additional revenue for the borough, adding the Whitehorse games generated in excess of $10 million for the community.
That much money means the peninsula isn't the only Alaska community vying for the games. O'Hara noted that in addition to the peninsula, Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Juneau also were actively vying to host the games. However, he said he thinks the peninsula is the most qualified of the Alaska contenders.
"Kenai-Soldotna has the facilities to have a technically strong bid," he said.
O'Hara's visit to the peninsula marks another step forward in the borough's bid to host the games. In March, a delegation from the borough traveled to Nuuk, Greenland, and Iqaluit, Nunavut Territory, Canada, to attend the 2002 games. That delegation included Andrew Carmichael, Parks and Recreation director for the city of Soldotna; Jack Brown, business director for the borough's Community and Economic Development Division; and Soldotna residents Becky Howard and Pam Foster.
While at the games, the delegation met with officials from the Arctic Winter Games International Committee and made several important contacts. One of those contacts happened to be O'Hara, Brown said Wednesday.
He told the chamber that O'Hara had previously met with Borough Mayor Dale Bagley and that O'Hara had been interested in helping out with a Kenai bid. From there, the framework was laid for the bid committee to lure O'Hara.
While at the 2002 games, discussions between the delegation and O'Hara basically cemented his commitment to the peninsula bid, though Brown said he was surprised to land someone as knowledgeable as O'Hara.
"I don't know what his motivation was. He probably felt sorry for Andrew (Carmichael) and me," Brown said. All kidding aside though, Brown said he's already been impressed with what O'Hara can do.
"He's already saved us hundreds of hours of (preliminary bid) work," he said.
Today, O'Hara's peninsula tour continues. At noon, he'll travel to Nikiski to speak before the North Peninsula Chamber of Commerce. Following that, a reception will be held at 4 p.m. at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center to welcome O'Hara to the community. On Sunday, O'Hara will have a meeting with the bid committee to further develop strategy and organization for the bid.
If all goes well, the tour could be a crucial step toward building community support for the games, which O'Hara said is perhaps the most important aspect of any successful bid for the games.
"The community has to support it.... I'm certain you will."
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