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Remembering when Portland tried and failed to host the Olympics

Visions of a sprawling athletics complex fell apart when voters rejected the construction of the Delta Dome in 1964.

A black and white illustration shows renderings of a massive domed stadium surrounded by sprawling parking lots that radiate outwards.

At 1,000 ft in diameter and 300 ft in height, the Delta Dome would’ve covered five blocks, surpassing the Hilton by seven stories.

With just over a month until the Paris 2024 Olympics, we thought we’d take a stroll, nay a sprint, down memory lane, to the time when Portland threw its hat, or perhaps its discus, into the rings to host the 1968 Summer Games.

The year was 1962 and civic leaders had dreams of pole vaulting to the top of the sports world. For Mayor Terry Schrunk and Portland Olympic Council Chairman Milo McIver (of state park fame), the plan hinged on the city’s “unique natural assets” and “a vast recreation complex.”

Eyes turned toward Delta Park in North Portland with the intent to build an Olympic stadium, a 60,000-seat outdoor swimming facility, and athlete housing, plus a boating center in Sellwood, not to mention the use of existing venues like Memorial Coliseum and the Portland Expo Center.

All told, the fantastic visions came with a very real price tag — $63 million, or approx. $655 million today.

The effort’s legs got wobbly trying to lift its heaviest weight — the Delta Dome, a state-of-the-art covered arena that proponents hoped would attract professional football and baseball teams. When Portland voters rejected the project in 1964 (by only 9,000 ballots), Seattle eventually became the preferred expansion for the NFL and MLB — and any Olympic aspirations Portland had crumbled.

Ultimately, Mexico City won the bid for 1968. Some would argue Portland not getting out of the starting blocks back then was a blessing in disguise, but that didn’t stop another recent yet still unsuccessful attempt.

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