Turin Hopes for Long-Lasting Tourism Payoff

Local officials in Turin hope the Olympics will leave a lasting and positive legacy in the city despite their cost. There's hope the city will become a tourism and business travel destination.

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SCOTT SIMON host:

The Winter Olympics end tomorrow in Turin. I know we'll get a lot more emails telling us to say Torino, but as it happens in all cities that host the Games, local officials are trying to figure out just what to do with all those brand new sports venues and Olympic villages that were all built for an event that lasts just 16 days.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this report.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI reporting:

Italians can't contain their joy over their new sports idol. Twenty-four-year-old Enrico Fabris is the first Italian male athlete to win three medals in one Olympics. The Italian speed-skating champion performed his feats in the brand new Oval Lingotto, but it's not clear what purpose this state-of-the-art rink will serve in the future. Italy's Speed Skating Federation has only 80 members, compared to over 300,000 in the Netherlands.

Every host city of the Olympic Games has to deal with the nightmare of being burdened with unprofitable white elephants, but an unscientific survey in the streets of Turin reveals a surge of optimism in a city that has undergone a long period of economic decline and high unemployment.

Twenty-one-year-old Andrea Vasscia(ph) is one of many local residents who are not worried about the financial burden the Games will leave behind.

Mr. ANDREA VASSCIA (Resident, Turin): With the Olympic Games, there are a lot, a lot of money here, and I hope that the people in charge to invest this money will find us good ideas and solution to make this money into profit.

POGGIOLI: Like many of its host city predecessors, Turin is financing a foundation to manage and maintain the Olympic venues in the hopes the venues will produce profits.

Andrea Biratte(ph), who's in charge of research and development for the Piedmont region has studied post-Olympic situations in Lillehammer, Calgary and Salt Lake City. He estimates that after ten years, a well-run foundation will have erased all debts incurred by the Turin Games.

Mr. ANDREA BIRATTE (Research and Development, Piedmont Region): (Through a translator) If we correctly manage the venues in the city and the mountains, and if we attract more tourism and attract other sports events, we will generate an economy worth 200 million euros. We will create a new economy.

POGGIOLI: Turin underwent particular difficulties in recent years with the collapse of the Fiat auto industry, which for decades had been the city's prime employer. For the Olympics, Italy poured nearly $4 billion in investments for new infrastructures and refurbishing the Turin area. Biratte says that Games have served not as a final target, but as a starting point to regenerate the city's social, cultural and economic life.

Mr. BIRATTE: (Through a translator) The Olympic Games are the fresh air that sweeps away the soot of the old culture. They leave a more international air. What we have to do now is to ensure that this air stays here.

POGGIOLI: Turin administrators look to Barcelona, host of the 1992 Summer Olympics, as the model to maintain the city in the international spotlight. The calendar of upcoming events is full. This year, Turin becomes World Book Capital. It will host the World Chess Olympiad and the World Fencing Championships. Next year the sports venues will be used for the International University Winter Olympiad.

Turin has been designated World Capital of Design and will host an International Architects Congress. The city is also home to the Salon of Taste, the world's most famous gastronomic festival. In October, 1,000 chefs and 6,000 small farmers and harvesters will descend on Turin from all over the world.

All these events should help transform Turin from a gritty industrial capital to a service-based new economy. Carlo Olma(ph), who teaches history of architecture at Turin University, says it will be a huge challenge to transform Turin's generally poorly educated labor force from heavy industry to a more skilled new economy, but he stresses, the Olympics have acted as a crucial psychological boost.

Professor CAROL OLMA (Turin University): Changes are coming for the population in the future, because they can see an idea. The city is growing, begins a new era of growing. It's, you know, the imaginary is important as the reality.

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Turin.

SIMON: And you'll find all kinds of other Olympics information if you go to our website, NPR.org.

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