The Olympic & Paralympic Museum is expected to ask for a bailout.
What we think:
If they get the money, their operations and expenditures need to be transparent.
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Well, this isn’t a good look...
Less than one year after opening its doors, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, the crown jewel of Olympic City USA, has ousted its CEO, appears to be on shaky financial ground and is expected to ask for a $3.5 million bailout — a portion of the roughly $76 million that will be allocated to the city through the American Rescue Plan.
The museum and hall of fame, completed last year, opened at almost twice the cost of its initial $45 million estimate. And the timing, of course, couldn’t have been worse. Opening a public venue during the pandemic certainly impacted visitor numbers. But, COVID or not, their projected volume was always a fantasy.
When the city applied for state money in 2013 to help fund City for Champions projects, its application predicted the museum would draw 350,000 visitors a year — more than 900 per day — and that 82 percent of them would be from out of state (Regional Tourism Act funds were used to attract new tourist dollars from outside Colorado). Economic & Planning Systems Inc., a consultant hired by the state to conduct an independent analysis, found “60 percent as a more reasonable, although still high target.”
Projected visitor numbers were never realistic, yet inflated figures were broadly touted by supporters prior to groundbreaking. The museum won’t release official visitor numbers, but word on the street is that it’s not anywhere close to 900 a day. The venue would be fortunate to draw a crowd that large even when the Olympic Games are occurring normally every two years — and this year’s belated Tokyo Summer Games appear to be on a crash course with disaster.
From the beginning, dealings surrounding the City for Champions projects were shrouded in secrecy, with extremely little public input sought. The thinking: No city tax dollars would be used on C4C projects, so no need to consult residents (although the city used Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority money for the pedestrian bridge to America the Beautiful Park). But federal ARP money is taxpayer money, so the lack of citizen involvement in early discussions of this potential bailout is all the more concerning.
If the museum receives this money, its fiscal operations going forward need to be far more transparent and receive much more public scrutiny. Council President Tom Strand said, if the museum’s request is honored, that he would want to see quarterly financial updates. Councilor Richard Skorman pointed out the museum presumably has an endowment, a luxury not seen at smaller nonprofits. Councilor Bill Murray said he’s flatly opposed to providing ARP money to nonprofits as it’s not up to the city to pick winners and losers.
Which brings us to the final point: Colorado Springs doesn’t need the Olympics. These athletes need to train somewhere and it’s great so many are in Colorado Springs, but the city shouldn’t be identified with an exclusive global brand, one that has dealt with its fair share of corruption and controversy over the years. Leave outside brands to cities that can’t sell themselves. That’s not Colorado Springs. And let’s not forget how the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2007 blackmailed the city into providing more than $50 million in incentives to keep the organization headquartered here...
No matter the outcome for the museum, we’ve learned there are many life lessons to be taken from the Olympics — like it’s always easier spending other people’s money.