Olympic City? Is it really such a good idea for our oft-misunderstood city to so eagerly embrace the Olympic brand?
It’s true that the presence of the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters, the Olympic Training Center, the national governing bodies and especially the U.S. Olympic Museum are enormously beneficial to our community.
It’s equally true that the USOC is in some sense the branch office of a world-girdling, Swiss-headquartered megacorporation with challenges, opportunities and priorities that have nothing to do with Colorado Springs.
It’s an organization that has been criticized for cozying up to dictatorial regimes and for encouraging poor countries to invest lavishly on Olympic facilities that bring no lasting benefit to their citizens.
Its past is checkered with racism (John Carlos and Tommie Smith at the 1968 Summer Games) and corruption (the bribery scandal surrounding the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics).
We love particular athletes, but we don’t much care about the opaque organizations that stage them. We love “Girls,” but HBO? We root for the Broncos while simultaneously despising the master manipulators of the National Football League.
Real cities don’t tie their fates to a single organization or brand. Is Seattle famous only for Microsoft? Is San Francisco merely the city closest to the headquarters of Facebook? Is Denver the Queen City of the Plains?
Municipal boosters love to come up with branding strategies. “Queen City of the Plains” was one of them. Denver’s irreverent press corps, who preferred to call their beloved city “our dusty little cowtown,” promptly mocked it.
In the early 1970s, the National Lampoon’s 1964 High School Yearbook affectionately parodied the fictitious town of Dacron, Ohio — “The Asphalt Capital of America.”
Maybe we don’t need a brand, a limiting little phrase that makes us smaller than we are. Cities don’t have immutable organizing principles that can be summed up in a catchy little phrase — they’re complex living organisms that grow and change every day.
We create the city, as did those who came before. The daily cacophony of our lives — as we go to work, start businesses, walk our dogs, ride our bikes, chauffeur our kids around, go to church, give to nonprofits and argue about politics — creates the warp and weave of community.
And what we’re making far transcends any slogan. For many years, it felt as if we were swimming in a sea of glue, thrashing along and going nowhere. But things have changed.
Talk about long-deferred dreams — here are some that are finally getting started.
• The new Pikes Peak Summit House: First proposed more than 30 years ago, the project is well underway, slated to open in 2018-19.
• The Olympic Museum: First proposed 30 years ago, site preparation has begun. It should be open for business by 2019.
• The Cimarron interchange. It was obsolete a few years after it was completed in 1960 — and it’ll be totally finished in less than two years..
• The craft brewery explosion. Mike Bristol didn’t start a brewery — he planted the first stake in what has become a city of breweries.
• They’re young, smart and cool — and they’re taking over. The growth, competence and savvy of the young professional community during the past three or four years have been amazing. Just wait. You ain’t seen nothing yet!
• Local government is finally hitting on all cylinders. A coherent, sensible majority of City Council is working harmoniously with our coherent, sensible mayor. The potholes are being fixed; the Southern Delivery System is about to be operational; Douglas Bruce is defanged; and our decades-long quarrel with Pueblo about Fountain Creek is about to be settled.
• The downtown revival is really happening. Inspired by risk-taking downtown entrepreneurs such as Perry Sanders, John Goede, Kathy Loo and Darsey Nicklasson, the big dogs are awakening from their decades-long slumber. Developers Buck Blessing and Chris Jenkins are teaming to build a couple of substantial apartment complexes, while Sanders and Goede are busily transforming the Antlers into another great downtown hotel. Even the derelict southwest downtown urban renewal area is poised for explosive change, as the construction of the Olympic Museum brings life and businesses to the forlorn neighborhood.
• UCCS. Take a poky little CU-extension school, add folks like Murray Ross and Alex Soifer, put Pam Shockley-Zalabak in charge and watch it become a first-rate university. The $60 million Ent Center for the Arts is under construction with a scheduled completion date of 2018.
With or without the Olympic logo, we have a rendezvous with destiny. As Federico Peña said of Denver 30 years ago: Imagine a great city.