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Lessons from 2002: Myles Rademan and the Salt Lake Olympics

“If you don’t know your own story, how can you expect newcomers to get involved in your community?” – Myles Rademan When Myles Rademan accepted the job of director of planning for Park City back in 1986, he had no idea what the next few years would b
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Myles Rademan

“If you don’t know your own story, how can you expect newcomers to get involved in your community?”

– Myles Rademan

When Myles Rademan accepted the job of director of planning for Park City back in 1986, he had no idea what the next few years would bring. “Up to that point,” recounts the gregarious 63 year old, “my experience with mountain towns was fairly limited. I had spent the last 15 years as a planner in Crested Butte, true, but working there was a unique situation.”

He laughs. “Geography was our defining point there. Attitude and a desire to do things differently was what motivated us. But pure survival played a big role. It was such a small, isolated place that you really had to work together if you wanted anything to happen.”

While Aspen — only a day’s mountain bike away across the pass — was the place for sophisticated grown-ups, Crested Butte was for rebellious youngsters. “It was a community-minded, egalitarian kind of a town,” explains Rademan. A smile flits across his features. “This was a place where the trappings of wealth were definitely not popular. Where ‘natural’ and ‘self-propelled’ and ‘environmentally-responsible’ became part of the lexicon long before it did in other places. I guess you could say CB was the anti-Aspen.” A long pause. “For my wife and I, it was like finding a lost civilization…”

But then, before skiing arrived, Crested Butte was a lost civilization. A remote, hard-scrabbling coal-mining town, the original community consisted mostly of Serbians and Croatians who’d been recruited to work the coal seams hidden deep in the local hills. And when those dried up in the mid-1950s, the town had very little to fall back on.

“Great wealth was never made in Crested Butte,” says Rademan. “The people who settled there originally were very poor. When I’d ask some of the old-timers what life was like during the Great Depression, they’d look at me blankly. Conditions were already so tough there that the Depression had very little impact on their lives…”

Lest you think Rademan is just another nostalgia-laden baby-boomer looking back at old times and waxing romantic, think again. “I look back on my time in Crested Butte and realize that much of my biggest fights were symbolic,” he says. And then he laughs, long and loud and completely free of guilt. “One of my biggest battles, ironically enough, was over a grant I got to pave the town’s mains streets — you know, get the sidewalks done and plant some grass and get some street lights and stuff.” He pauses. “People accused me of all sorts of things. I wasn’t being realistic. I was betraying the community. It was a huge fight; it completely divided the town…”

Another big smile. “I remember I managed to find some used street lamps out of a dump in Burbank, California. And you know what? Now people assume the lamp posts were part of the original town.”

He says he wasn’t all that surprised by the furor, however. “Like pioneers in the old days, early adapters have a highly developed sense of ownership and pride in the places they ‘discover’. After all, you’ve distinguished yourself as an explorer — and you want to protect what you’ve found. It’s entirely natural to resist change.” He stops speaking. Frowns. “But change will happen — especially in beautiful places that attract wealthy patrons. It’s how you manage that change — how you make it fit your story — that distinguishes a great community from a merely good one.”

By 1986, Rademan too was ready for change. And so when Park City came calling, he and his family willingly pulled up roots and moved northwest.

From isolated mountain community deep in the southern mountains of Colorado, Rademan suddenly found himself in an entirely different kind of ski town. Less than a half-hour’s drive from Salt Lake — and facing an incipient boom in population — the municipality of Park City had just gone bankrupt. And they needed some serious planning advice. “It’s in the heart of one of the most conservative regions in all of North America,” he explains. “Yet the desire to develop was huge. And the town’s proximity to Salt Lake exacerbated the development pressures. They definitely needed a road-map for the future…”

Rademan set about his new task with customary zeal. “I’m quite happy with the way things have turned out here,” he says. And laughs. “Now that I’m semi-retired, I’m at the point in my life where I’m not too concerned with being careful about what I say anymore. I just stand up and say it. So you don’t have to worry that I’m just being diplomatic…”

It was in 1996 that Salt Lake City was named official host of the 2002 Winter Games. Like Whistler, Park City would host many of the on-snow events. Now Public Affairs Director, Rademan immediately convinced his municipal cohorts to start researching other host towns to see what they could learn — good and bad. “We took the Games very seriously,” he says. “We traveled to a lot of former Olympic sites, nosed around and asked a ton of questions.” He laughs. “And the biggest thing we discovered? That the Olympic hype is so much bigger than its reality…”

Still, there are a few lessons that he learned from the Games that he’d love to share with us. Among them, are some striking paradoxes; know how to handle these, he says, and you’re golden…

“The Olympics,” he explains, “are the most prestigious sporting event in the world. At the same time, they are the biggest, tackiest carnival event ever devised.” And they are both things simultaneously. “It’s quite interesting, you know. You’re going to have these huge corporate entities coming through your community. Your job — because nobody else is going to do it for you — is to figure out how your town is going to benefit from their passage…”

Perhaps the most important lesson of all, he says, is that: “the host town has to become a fully engaged player. Unless you’re in control of your destiny, you can’t look out for your best interests.” He pauses. “And you can’t be in control of your destiny if you just sit back and watch. During the 2002 Games, Park City became known as ‘party central’. Why? We didn’t wait for others to plan it for us. We did it ourselves. We organized a whole lot of things as a municipality to promote ourselves as the fun place to gather. We had a story. We had a theme. And people were drawn to that.”

Which leads to his next suggestion. “Make the locals part of the party! The Olympics shouldn’t be perceived by local residents as ‘happening to us.’ They need to be included. They need to be full partners in the enterprise. Give locals a role to play — and not just as spectators or Games’ Slaves — but as bona fide participants.” He pauses for a moment. Searches for just the right words. “Olympic organizing committees — no matter what country they come from — aren’t there to serve the local community’s needs. Their job is to get the Games off. It’s the community’s job is to make sure local residents enjoy their Olympic experience. Again, no one else is going to do that for you.”

He goes on. “Locals can make or break the Olympics. After all, this is a big sound stage for a worldwide audience — over 2.5 billion people will tune in sometime during the two-week blitz. Whether it’s dealing with the media or interacting with members of the Olympic family or even how they welcome visitors, the people living in your community will have a HUGE impact on whether or not your Games are deemed a success. Engage your workers. Challenge them. Make sure they realize ‘what’s in it for them’.” He smiles. “If you can succeed at that, then all the rest is easy…”

The following are 10 maxims and 10 lessons culled from Rademan’s 2002 experience:


OLYMPIC MAXIMS

1. To Be Effective Sit at the Table

2. Participate then Regulate

3. Hype Trumps Reality

4. Long Term Clarity Cuts Short Term Fog

5. Desire to Know Far Exceeds the Need To Know

6. The Cast of Characters Constantly Changes

7. The Press Is Not Necessarily Your Friend

8. Sponsors Are Fickle

9. Everyone Has an Angle

10. There Is No Guarantee of Success

OLYMPIC LESSONS

1. Olympics are Simultaneously the Most Prestigious Sporting Event in the World & the Biggest Carnival of Pretension & Hype

2. Telling the Truth Doesn’t Mean People Will Believe It

3. Olympic Experience Grows & Attitudes Change Quickly

4. Commercialization is a Fact of Life But it can be Mitigated

5. Details are Very Important as is Sequencing

6. Things Go Wrong; Fix Them Quickly

7. Olympics are Over Quickly But Planning Takes a Long Time. Be patient and Manage Your Resources Well

8. Under Promise & Over Deliver

9. Post-Olympic Expectations are Generally Unrealistic

10. Capitalize on the Buzz, but Discount the Hype




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