Nearly 500 days ago, actually 70-plus weeks, Colorado Springs celebrated a momentous victory.
On the wintry morning of Dec. 16, 2013, in Denver, the Colorado Economic Development Commission voted unanimously to approve state tax funding assistance through the Regional Tourism Act to help finance City for Champions.
Little did anyone realize at the time what a magnet for controversy the projects — especially one — would become.
The initial plan was to move forward as quickly as possible with all four elements of City for Champions: the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame; the Gateway Visitor Center at the Air Force Academy; the UCCS Sports Medicine and Performance Center; and the Colorado Sports and Event Center, a two-facility complex in southwest downtown adjacent to the Olympic Museum.
But the state’s approval didn’t create a fast-track timeline. In fact, the Regional Tourism Act loosely gives the state EDC an option “to revoke or modify its approval of a project if substantial work on the project does not commence within five years of approval by the EDC.”
That means meaningful construction must be underway on each portion of the package by December 2018, more than three and a half years from now.
Until somebody surfaces to lead the Sports and Event Center crusade, its fate will remain uncertain.
[/pullquote]There is internal pressure to open the Olympic Museum by the end of 2017 — or no later than the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. But that’s not coming from the state. Last fall, organizers led by former Colorado College President and Ohio Gov. Dick Celeste announced the architectural team and more details, including GE Johnson Construction Co. as general contractor. At the time, the word was that initial designs would be forthcoming by mid-2015, which isn’t far away.
Progress also has been happening for the UCCS and Air Force Academy projects, which appear all but certain to become reality. It doesn’t hurt that both schools’ top executives, AFA Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson and UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, are staunch supporters.
Then there’s the downtown Sports and Event Center. It’s been a constant target of criticism, a lightning rod for opponents who don’t like the idea and don’t want to see public funding involved.
The concept is bold: a 10,000-seat outdoor stadium and a 3,000-seat indoor facility capable of handling six basketball courts, with the total cost estimated at $92.7 million.
But momentum for the Sports and Event Center has ground to a halt. There was a move to make it a ballot issue for voters to approve, even without any funding attached, but given the flexible time frame, it simply has stalled — in limbo until something happens.
I asked a handful of people involved with City for Champions for an update. Some responses:
“You seem to know as much as I do, which is very little.”
“I know of nothing going on with the stadium.”
“It’s been radio silent.”
Most folks assume the C4C organizers will reconvene after a new mayor is elected May 19, hopefully with that person running the meeting.
But there is one basic problem plaguing the Sports and Event Center. It’s the only C4C project that doesn’t have a well-known public leader to champion the cause, the only one without a solid organization behind it, the only one that doesn’t have stable footing.
Until somebody surfaces to lead the Sports and Event Center crusade, its fate will remain uncertain. Someone has to carry that torch and inspire others to join the effort.
It could be a prominent former Olympic athlete, preferably from a sport that could use the facility (somebody from women’s soccer?).
It could be simply a local sports celebrity (Goose Gossage comes to mind) or even a state-level sports hero (Amy Van Dyken? Randy Gradishar?). Perhaps a former coach with local ties and proven charm, such as Fisher DeBerry or somebody like Gary Barnett.
But that’s putting the cart before the horse. First, somebody would have to generate seed money, put together an organizing group and then find the leader.
It’s a tall order, to say the least. But there is much potential — Olympic sports, Switchbacks soccer, state high school events, perhaps even a downtown venue for UCCS basketball to use as an alternate home.
And because the whispers are still out there, it would make sense to save some property near downtown for … yes, a baseball stadium, not part of City for Champions, except by proximity.
Nothing’s happening now, but that doesn’t mean any of these ideas are dead. They just need a spark.
Anybody got a match?