Olympic Museum

Now that the municipal elections are history we can turn our attention elsewhere and consider tangible achievements rather than empty words, futile campaigns and frustrated dreams.

Let’s start with the long-frustrated dream of building the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame somewhere in Colorado Springs. First proposed almost 40 years ago, it surfaced from time to time only to be abandoned. There was never enough money, an appropriate site, a credible backer, U.S. Olympic Committee buy-in or a path to a public/private partnership that could actually put a deal together.

Enter Mayor Steve Bach, economic development mastermind Bob Cope, former Ambassador to India/Ohio governor/CC President Dick Celeste and the long shot of long shots: City for Champions.

It was absurd, bizarre, fantastical and a waste of time, an example of delusional local government gone berserk — or so its detractors claimed. Against all odds, the Colorado Economic Development Commission approved state sales tax increment funding for four identified C4C projects, including the Olympic Museum.

And then the fun began. Three of the four projects had little identifiable funding, no specific sites and no particular leadership. The proposed Olympic Museum had Celeste, giving it instant credibility, but there was a lot of work to be done.

While the other projects floundered, Celeste forged ahead. The Olympic Museum wasn’t his first rodeo. As governor of Ohio, Celeste was a key player in bringing the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Cleveland. He understood how to structure funding and how to bring an airy idea to fruition.

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He never lacked confidence.

“I’m very comfortable with this ask,” he told me in an interview several years ago, when the project was formally launched.

He was right. The museum should be finished later this year, and is slated to have its formal opening in early 2020, well before the beginning of the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games on July 24. The $75 million project has been touted both as a major regional visitor attraction and a game-changer for the southwest downtown area.

It’s a striking building, even in its present, partially finished state. Bemused observers have compared it to a grounded spaceship from a galaxy far, far away. It bears no resemblance to any other structure in our staid city, other than the comparatively restrained 2009 Antoine Predock-designed Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center at Colorado College. Not coincidentally, Celeste was CC’s president when Gaylord was conceived and created.

Celeste had worked with the legendary I.M. Pei as design architect for the Rock Museum, but Pei turns 102 this month. Rather than work with either Predock or Pei’s firm, Celeste supported the choice of Diller Scofidio + Renfro for the Olympic Museum.

The New York City-based firm has designed some of the most interesting and imaginative buildings in the world during the last decade. The Shed, a $529 million Arts Center and performance space in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards that was first conceived two decades ago, will open today. The building apparently defies description. An article in The New York Times characterized it as “an airplane hangar wrapped in a down comforter” — not your usual architect-speak.

Here’s how DS+R describes our downtown spaceship.

“The dynamic building form is inspired by the energy and grace of Olympians in competition. The 65,750 square foot museum takes its athletes as inspiration; the design idealizes athletic motion by organizing its programs — galleries, auditorium, and administrative spaces — twisting and stretching centrifugally around an atrium space. Visitors arrive at the ground level of the atrium, and then ascend to the top of the building quickly and gradually spiral down through a sequence of loft galleries, moving back-and-forth from the introspective atrium to the building’s perimeter and views to the city and the mountains.”

In less than a year, we’ll see whether the spaceship soars or flops. I’m betting on ignition and liftoff, a revived southwest downtown, a flood of visitors and a grand opening ceremony. And for the winners in Tuesday’s election, you’ll be there, albeit seated in obscurity with other petty dignitaries. I’d love to be there and report the epochal moment, but I have previous engagements in Cripple Creek and/or Puerto Vallarta.

Enjoy the speeches and the uncomfortable seats! Don’t forget to practice your permanently frozen political smile, and don’t get dizzy spiraling around the atrium space… can’t wait to spiral myself.