The members of City Council, almost unanimously, thought this was the right thing to do. But no one would've guessed it would be so easy.
Monday afternoon, in Council chambers, the city's leaders stood grinning behind their long desk, watching as about 150 people filed out the door. By a 7-1 margin, they had approved the deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee's headquarters in Colorado Springs. About an hour later, at the Olympic Complex, USOC board chairman Peter Ueberroth, LandCo Equity Partners, LLC chairman Ray Marshall (the project developer) and Mayor Lionel Rivera would make it official.
The city agreed to finance $27 million of a $53 million incentive package to retain the USOC, which had been considering a move since last summer.
This was the rarest of occasions. The city had decided, without voter approval, to throw millions at a project. And Colorado Springs proud home of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights had looked squarely at the deal, and yawned.
"I was a little surprised," Councilwoman Jan Martin said of the relative quiet. "It's a good day for Colorado Springs."
And an unusually good day for Council. (Just ask folks with the county, who were reamed by citizens when it pulled a similar financial move several years ago to expand the county jail.)
Two people two! voiced complaints to City Council about the deal. Both said they were glad the USOC would stay. One woman was concerned the deal was too sweet for the USOC. The other woman was simply tired of seeing more tall buildings in our once-quaint downtown.
That wasn't enough to break the jubilant mood. Neither was Darryl Glenn's lone vote against the deal. (Councilman Randy Purvis was absent.)
"I believe this is a project that easily could have been ratified by the electorate," Glenn said after the meeting, adding that come budget time, City Council could face citizen outrage if it cuts vital services.
But Councilman Jerry Heimlicher said the deal couldn't wait. A special election would have cost hundreds of thousands, and putting this off until the November election would have meant losing the USOC, which wanted this done before the Beijing Olympics.
"In my opinion, he let his constituents down," Heimlicher said of Glenn. "If he had prevailed, we would have lost the USOC ... We were elected to serve the people, not win another election."
Heimlicher's take was echoed by many on Council. Of course, that's not to say a possible backlash was absent from everyone's mind.
"Amazing things don't happen because it's safe and secure; amazing things happen because you go out on a limb," City Councilwoman Margaret Radford said.
The city does get more than a public-relations push out of this deal. David Bamberger & Associates found that in 2007, Olympic and related sports industry had a $341.3 million economic impact in Colorado Springs. But the city expects the Olympic aura can bring even more for the city, because the deal allows them to use the Olympic rings in marketing the city. That, combined with a much showier Olympic presence, is expected to bring in 20 percent more tourists a year, and increase the economic output to $352.3 million.
Ueberroth confirmed that the USOC considered deals from about 10 other cities, including a highly-publicized bid from Chicago's Sears Tower. Developer Marshall dismissed the idea that the Springs was a shoo-in, but says the USOC was interested in more than money. (Being an incumbent has its advantages, as Ueberroth admitted; ask staff how they felt about the prospect of uprooting their lives.)
The USOC, Marshall says, is concerned chiefly with providing the best for its athletes.
"The U.S. Olympic Committee," he says, "isn't about putting the rings on the Sears Tower."
Here are the terms of the deal agreed to by the U.S. Olympic Committee, the city of Colorado Springs and LandCo Equity Partners, LLC:
The city will come up with $27 million, El Pomar Foundation about $2 million, and the state economic development office $500,000. LandCo Equity Partners, LLC has secured private financing for the remaining $23.5 million needed to complete the project.
USOC headquarters eventually will move to 27 S. Tejon St., at the corner of Colorado Avenue. The top five floors, all new, will have 90,000 square feet of office space, which will be paid for by the city, then gifted to the USOC in 25 years. LandCo retains control of the bottom two levels, planned for Olympic-themed entertainment or retail. The building is expected to open by August 2009.
USOC offices will have a temporary home starting Aug. 15 at 19 N. Tejon St., another LandCo-owned office building. LandCo will provide that space rent-free.
The old city Gas Operations Building, at 30 S. Cimino Drive, will be the new home for many individual sports' national offices.
The Olympic Training Center will undergo a broad modernization. LandCo will pour $16 million into adding 158 housing units (including 70 for athletes who are married, also with children), expanding the cafeteria, renovating the visitor center, rerouting internal roads and creating a new entrance from Union Boulevard rather than Boulder Street. Work should be done by December 2009.
J. Adrian Stanley