The one legacy sports promoter Bob Walsh didn't want the Pacific Rim Sports Summit to leave for Seattle, friends and colleagues say, was...

Share story

The one legacy sports promoter Bob Walsh didn’t want the Pacific Rim Sports Summit to leave for Seattle, friends and colleagues say, was a lingering debt.

But that appears to be precisely what’s left of the city’s once-promising international, Olympic-style event.

The board of the Seattle Organizing Committee, a nonprofit group created to run what was to be a competition for 900 athletes from nine nations in June, finally pulled the plug on the summit yesterday, ending weeks of speculation about its financial viability.

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

What remains is a broken promise to athletes, a shattered dream of local Olympic organizers — and more than $1 million in debt to local sponsors, according to sources close to the matter.

Earlier negotiations with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Seattle group’s former management partner, to help repay that debt apparently have broken down, leaving Walsh’s Seattle group holding the bills.

Summit organizers owe event sponsors such as KING TV, the Seattle Westin, various legal and advertising firms, The Seattle Times, and even its own SOC staff, some of whom worked for a period of time without pay when the organization ran out of cash, sources say.

Also on the creditor list are an undisclosed number of ticket holders, who are being advised to contact the vendor that sold them the tickets — either Ticketmaster or the Seattle Organizing Committee itself — for refunds by May 15.

It’s unclear how many tickets were sold, or how much money the SOC will wind up refunding. The two men most responsible for the event, Walsh and organizing committee Chairman Jim Dwyer, president and CEO of Washington Dental Services, expressed regret for the cancellation in a statement yesterday, but declined any other comment or explanation.

In the statement, Dwyer acknowledged financial challenges and concluded the event “just wasn’t meant to be.” Walsh, organizer of Seattle’s 1990 Goodwill Games, cited “circumstances and situations we encountered along the way.”

But Dwyer’s own communications from earlier this week suggest the group probably will find itself at least $1 million in the hole for an event launched with a total budget of about $12 million.

In a letter Tuesday to Jim Scherr, the USOC’s executive director, Dwyer discussed what he saw as earlier promises by the USOC to help cover unpaid bills, which Scherr had characterized as “well in excess of $1 million.”

The letter was obtained by The Times earlier this week. It is not known whether that figure includes the cost of ticket refunds. But the organizing committee assured in its statement that all tickets would be fully refunded.

The USOC, for its part, appeared to wash its hands of the affair. The Olympic group’s sole focus has shifted to finding proper events for its athletes — perhaps in other U.S. cities — to replace some of those scheduled for Seattle, a spokesman said yesterday.

Any questions about picking up financial pieces are “better addressed to the SOC,” said Darryl Seibel, the USOC’s chief communications officer.

Seattle Organizing Committee board members reportedly met via teleconference yesterday afternoon to discuss fallout from the event’s cancellation. The meeting was expected to include a discussion of legal options.

Dwyer told the Seattle committee’s attorneys in an e-mail earlier this week that he believed the USOC “has some real exposure” for the event’s downfall.

In that and other communiqués, Dwyer accused the USOC of reneging on a promise to deliver $2 million to $2.5 million in national advertising money to the Seattle group. He and other members of the Seattle committee have said the USOC’s failure to deliver that cash was a key factor in the summit’s financial collapse.

“Everything they told us led us to believe they would produce $2.5m,” Dwyer wrote in an e-mail sent to Walsh, SOC board members and SOC attorneys on Sunday, and later obtained by The Times.

But another SOC source told The Times no promise of national sponsorship money was ever made in writing. And the USOC yesterday reacted sharply to the charge that it was financially responsible for the summit’s failure.

“We had been successful in securing national sponsorship in support of the event,” said Seibel, who declined to disclose a dollar amount. “But the suggestion that the USOC reneged on a promise to deliver $2 [million] to $2.5 million in national sponsorship money is patently false.”

No one on the SOC board has explained why, if the USOC national-sponsorship money was such a key element to the summit’s success, the organizing committee failed to get a contractual commitment.

The summit’s collapse is a major blow to Puget Sound sports promoters’ dreams of establishing the region as a major player on the Olympic sports scene, perhaps attracting future Olympic trials and even creating momentum for a new Seattle Summer Olympic Games bid. An earlier attempt to submit a bid for the 2012 Summer Games foundered in 1998 in the face of significant public opposition.

“Clearly, there were a lot of people in Seattle who committed a significant amount of time and effort to make [the summit] happen,” the USOC’s Seibel said. “That’s something that’s very much appreciated. As to long-term implications, it’s far too early to assess.”

Organizers had hoped the summit, billed as the “Road to Beijing” and its 2008 Summer Games, would be hosted by China next summer, then return to Seattle in 2007. Its future even as a “concept” can’t be known today, Seibel said.

Meanwhile, an arts festival featuring the Grand Kabuki Theatre June 8-12 and the Pacific Health Summit June 8-11, which were to run concurrently with the sports summit, will proceed as planned.

As originally conceived, the sports summit would have drawn athletes from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, China, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. Sports were to include basketball, volleyball, track and field, archery, softball, gymnastics, synchronized swimming, diving and track cycling, with competition venues stretching from Tacoma to Everett.

Ticket holders who purchased from Ticketmaster were advised to seek a refund where they bought their tickets. Those who purchased tickets from the SOC can call 206-903-6850, or return their tickets with a note requesting a refund to the Seattle Organizing Committee, 2401 Fourth Ave., Suite 840, Seattle, WA, 98121, by May 15.

Ron Judd: 206-464-8280 or rjudd@seattletimes.com