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Staring down stagnation 

City Sage

It was hopeful. It was amazing. It was depressing. It was the "public comments" phase of the City for Champions presentation to the Colorado Economic Development Commission last Wednesday.

Two hundred people were crammed into an undersized hearing room in Denver's Wells Fargo Building. One hundred had signed up to comment.

Colorado Springs City Councilor Joel Miller was first in line. He condemned the proposal: its genesis, its specifics, its funding (or lack thereof), and even the buses that brought backers to Denver. He claimed to represent tens of thousands of Colorado Springs residents who are or will be adamantly opposed to the deal.

Councilor Don Knight echoed Miller's screed, if less stridently. Later in the meeting Councilor Helen Collins cast her lot with the naysayers.

The naysayers were very much in the minority. Proponents of the deal included Mayor Steve Bach, Councilors Jill Gaebler and Val Snider, El Pomar Foundation CEO Bill Hybl, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, CU President Bruce Benson, former Colorado College President Dick Celeste, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson and scores of business, arts and nonprofit leaders.

"The people you see right here — this is the real 'Spirit of the Springs,'" said longtime Regional Business Alliance staffer Julie Boswell.

Personally, I hope Julie's right. I hope that the EDC will ignore the naysayers and support C4C with state sales tax increment funding. I hope that the community will then come together and supplement state and private commitments with appropriate local public funding.

"Cities either move forward or decline," said former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut in support of the proposal. "They don't stand still."

Suppose that the state EDC is swayed by the naysayers, and nixes the deal. Or suppose that state funding is available, but local public funding is thwarted by the Millerites.

Such actions would carry a heavy price. In his remarks to the commission, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said that the potential Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame has attracted much interest — and not just from potential visitors.

"Virtually every week people contact me about it," he said. He didn't have to draw a picture. It was clear that many of those people were from other cities anxious to host the facility should Colorado Springs stumble.

"It will be built," said Blackmun of the museum. "And when it is, there will never be another one."

The odds appear likely that the Summer Olympics might come to an American city in 2024. The USOC will choose its candidate city by the end of 2014, and the International Olympic Committee will make its decision during 2017.

If Colorado Springs can't get its act together to build the museum and its proposed sister sports facility, expect the USOC to leave town for greener pastures. We'll watch disbelievingly as another city builds the museum and welcomes the USOC with open arms — maybe the city selected to host the 2024 games.

Think it can't happen? According to sources close to the USOC, the organization's board has already directed Blackmun to give them an estimate of the cost of leaving Colorado Springs, just in case.

For the USOC to leave, they'd have to pay back the city most of the cost of the Tejon Street building, as well as reimburse other expenditures made on the organization's behalf. It might cost tens of millions, but in the context of the USOC's annual budget it's small potatoes.

The closure of the steel mills 35 years ago ripped the heart out of Pueblo and sent that city into a long swoon from which it has yet to fully recover. The loss of the USOC would have similar repercussions for Colorado Springs.

Most of the various individual sports' national governing bodies wouln't stick around, and our sports economy could vanish without a trace.

Cities are collective achievements, the tangible expression of generations of men and women trying to build a better life for themselves and their children. Leafy suburbs do not magically arise from barren prairie land, nor do soaring buildings pull themselves out of the ground. They come from shared dreams of prosperity and progress. Our city was built, nourished and sustained by business leaders such as William Palmer, W.S. Stratton and Spencer Penrose, and by elected officials such as John Robinson, Bob Isaac and Mary Lou Makepeace. They welcomed the future — they didn't fight it.

The "nattering nabobs of negativism," as Bill Safire termed the enemies of a long-forgotten politician, never build anything. Such achievements come from the prattling Pollyannas of positivism.

City for Champions is an idea. It's flawed, it's imperfect, it's rushed, but so what? It's an unlikely dream, just as Colorado Springs itself was an unlikely dream.

Yet the dreams embodied in C4C can heal, strengthen and rebuild our city. After 10 years of economic stagnation and foreign wars, after two summers of fire and flood, after the angry infighting between Mayor and Council that has accompanied the change in the form of government — wouldn't it be wonderful to start anew?

Let's give it a chance. Let's build that shining city on a hill.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

  • It's flawed, it's imperfect, it's rushed, but so what?

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