Turanchik & friends gather to watch Olympic opening ceremonies and think about what might have been

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Turanchik was the merry host on Friday night, as volunteers, athletes and public officials, many involved in the quixotic effort, came together to celebrate the beginning of the 2012 games and share memories of what might have been.

Some of those in attendance say they can remember the day the dream died to bring the Olympics to Tampa Bay.

"The heartbrake is just like yesterday," said Cyndi Gage, a volunteer and intern coordinator for the full time volunteer for the effort.

That day was October October 26, 2001. There had been eight cities competing to be the official U.S. city to be put into the worldwide choice for the games. Cincinnati, Dallas and Los Angeles were also eliminated that day. A year later New York City would be the U.S. chosen city. They lost out to London in July of 2005.

Like Atlanta's winning bid for the 1996 Summer games, Gage said Tampa's bid was regional, not just about Tampa, and indeed it was, which is why it was the effort was called "Florida 2012."

Organizers planned for the games to be spread out, with events not only in Tampa, but also in St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Kissimmee, St. Cloud and Orlando, which needless to say with Florida's noted lack of public transportation, was always going to be a hard sell.

"That continues to be a need," said Turanchik, discussing the lack of viable public transportation in Tampa Bay in 2012. "I think what the bid did was build bridges with Central Florida, and sensitized the business community in a very poignant way that we just don't compete on this level because our transportation structure is just not competitive. If it’s going to hold you back on the Olympics, it’s going to hold you back on a lot of fronts."

Making an appearance at Champions was former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, who was in office and signed off on the committee's bid to become the U.S. city for the games in the late 1990's.

"New York had the edge because of what happened there," Greco said, alluding to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. "But two Super Bowls (in '84 and '91) had made it possible that we could do anything and host anything in this town."

Over a thousand volunteers and $10 million worked towards making the dream of Tampa Bay hosting an Olympics a reality. But it didn't happen. However, in four weeks there is the Republican National Convention coming to Tampa.

Turanchik said that while parts of downtown will be inconvenienced the week of the convention, it's nothing compared to what would have happened if the games came to the region.

"I was thinking about how exciting it is having the RNC here. It’s a great media event, but I was thinking how really small it is and how massive this thing is," referring to the Olympics. "We were talking about exclusionary zones, which was all of downtown Tampa, and you would have 27 venues..." He stopped talking. The summer games come around only once every four years, and U.S. cities have hosted the games only twice in the last 80 years. So perhaps it was something that might never occur. But for one night at least, those at Champions reminisced about their own efforts, and nobody seemed too disappointed in that.

As people gathered around televisions Friday night in the Tampa Bay area to watch the opening ceremonies of the London Summer Olympics, dozens of people did the same at a sports bar in downtown Tampa. But this group's mindset was somewhat conflicted. Excited about what the next two weeks will bring in terms of the highs and lows of athletic competition, but also tinged with bittersweet thoughts of such opening ceremonies taking place over 4,000 miles away in East London, when there was once the dream of having them take place almost next door.

They worked as volunteers from 1997-2001 on trying to secure a bid to have Tampa host the 2012 games, an effort led by Ed Turanchik, a former HIllsborough County Commissioner and candidate last year for mayor of Tampa.

"The Olympic bid was a lot of fun because it galvanized a lot of people who saw a different vision for our future," he said shortly after 6 p.m. Friday night inside Champions, a sports bar located inside the Tampa Marriott Waterside hotel. "I think we planted some good seeds, and some of those are still growing," alluding to a recently completed study done by the Urban Land Institute that would transform the area on the south and west bank of the HIllsborough River (Part of his plan called for an Olympic village to be constructed in West Tampa).

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