Despite apparently stalled fundraising efforts, backers of the proposed downtown U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame remain optimistic.
“We’re inching along,” said former Colorado College President/Ohio Governor Dick Celeste, who has headed the project since its inception. “It’s not as fast as we’d like, but we’ll get there. We hope to transfer land by year’s end, so the direction is right.”
Celeste has plenty of experience in creating and funding ambitious projects. While governor, he was instrumental in the 1986 selection of Cleveland for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To win that particular competition, Cleveland and Ohio had to raise $65 million and beat out a half-dozen well-financed competitors.
As Colorado College’s president, Celeste was a powerful fundraiser, launching a $300 million effort in 2003 titled “Vision 2010.” The $33.4 million Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center, made possible in part by two $10 million grants from El Pomar Foundation and the Inasmuch Foundation, opened in 2008.
So when Celeste signed up to lead the Olympic Museum effort, his formidable reputation helped revive and legitimize the city’s long-deferred dream of hosting such a facility.
One unsought side effect: At least one worthy nonprofit project was indefinitely postponed as its primary backer sensed that the museum would have first claim on local private and foundation funding.
Steve Rothstein had spent years trying to put together a downtown science museum, and was ready to begin raising funds for the project when then-Mayor Steve Bach persuaded Celeste to head up the Olympic Museum push.
Shortly afterward, Rothstein put the science museum on hold.
“He’s Dick Celeste!” said Rothstein at the time. “It doesn’t make sense to compete with him. He’ll get it done, and then perhaps we can revive the science museum.”
In the meantime, the cost for the Olympic Museum continues to grow. Originally estimated to cost $59.4 million, the total facility cost is now pegged at more than $75 million. That number does not include $51 million in associated infrastructure improvements spelled out in the city’s 2013 application for state funding, including a $29.5 million parking garage, $1.9 million in streetscape improvements and a $14 million “iconic pedestrian bridge” spanning the railroad tracks between the museum and America the Beautiful Park.
As originally conceived in the state-approved City for Champions proposal, the infrastructure improvements would have served both the museum and a downtown stadium. At present, there appears to be little support for the stadium, and it’s far from certain that it will be built. Given that C4C proponents estimated that the stadium facility would attract twice as many annual visitors as the museum (672,000 vs. 350,000), could public infrastructure funding be correspondingly reduced?
Yes and no, said Colorado Springs Economic Vitality Director Bob Cope, who has shepherded the C4C project since its inception.
Once the museum reaches its private fundraising goal, it has an agreement with two local banks to provide a private placement of approximately $37 million, secured by state sales tax increment financing through the Regional Tourism Act.
Some of the money will be used for streetscape improvements and to construct the pedestrian bridge, which will also receive funding from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
And money to build the parking garage will not come from either state money or other public sources cited in the original application. Instead, the Colorado Springs Parking Enterprise will issue revenue bonds to fund the structure.
“It may be built in stages,” said Cope, who confirmed that the bonds would likely be secured by all parking enterprise revenue, not just that produced by the new facility.
SPORTS AND EVENT CENTER
The Regional Tourism Act advisory board, a state-mandated local group that monitors the progress of projects the state has funded, is responsible for deciding which projects go forward.
The advisory board includes Mayor John Suthers, City Council President Merv Bennett, Downtown Partnership CEO Susan Edmondson and a dozen prominent local residents. While its meetings are open to the public, minutes of the two meetings since December 2015 have yet to be posted on the Urban Renewal Authority’s website (csura.org).
What’s hanging in the balance: the so-far unfunded sports and event center.
According to the minutes of the September 2015 meeting, “[City Economic Vitality Director] Bob Cope discussed the sports and event center. … Private sector will take the existing feasibility study and build upon it. The mayor discussed public resistance. He mentioned we need a more in-depth feasibility study. He has set about to get a privately funded feasibility study completed to determine if this can be done on a private financing basis, and if not, to decipher the public funding needed to go to a vote.”
Cope said the study would be finished in early January. When completed, stakeholders will “review whether there’s a sound business plan for going forward,” he said.
Opponents may fume — but Cope and Celeste believe that the project will soon reach its funding goal, and that building will commence next year.
Will the complex financial package require any public vote?
“We expect to create a new metro district [to replace the soon-to-expire southwest downtown urban renewal area]” said Cope. “Some funding will come from that, from RTA museum funding, a little from the PPRTA. No vote is anticipated — it’s a coalition of the willing.” n CSBJ