They called it the Party of the Century, and it turned out to be just that. When the International Olympic Committee picked Salt Lake City to host the 2002 Winter Games the city erupted in joy. It was 1995 and the games were nearly seven years in the distance, but citizens wanted to party.
So the Chamber threw one for them. Until the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, that’s what people thought about–the party at Washington Square.
Deborah Bayle will never forget it. As vice president of administrative services and special projects director of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, she spent a year of her life planning it. “We did a similar effort when we lost to Nagano. We had a whole weekend of activities planned, but then it just ended. It was bizarre,” she said. “We had hundreds of people there, and within an hour that square was dead.”
The Chamber remembered that lesson, and in 1995 came back with a bigger plan. But they still had to sell booths and sponsorships, “because of course it was free to the community,” she said. “People asked me, ‘What if we don’t win?’ and I said, ‘Then we’ll just leave.’ That was the chance we took.”
The announcement came and the three-day party was on. The Chamber wanted to do a Winter Olympics in June, “So we hauled snow in from the canyons. We built a cross-country ski track, and a luge and bobsled track.” The Chamber even trucked in a huge TV screen called Big Mo that came across the country. There were three stages and forty booths, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, lights on the City-County Building, and fireworks. Six hundred volunteers had to be coordinated and trained. In all, it cost $175,000 to stage.
It was a big success. The Chamber estimated 85,000 to 100,000 people came to the event. More than 800 people tried pushing a bobsled on a track. Seventy cases of ribs and 5,000 caramel apples were consumed and “people were buying anything they could get their hands on, whether it was their size or not,” Bayle said. “I don’t think it could have gone any better,” she told a reporter at the time, her voice reduced to a mere whisper.
It was one of the largest events ever planned by the Chamber.
Sources: Interview with Deborah Bayle, 10 June 2002. Deseret News, 19 June 1995.