In a rapid, coordinated effort to prevent the U.S. Olympic Committee, and possibly the Olympic Training Center, from leaving Colorado Springs, the city is seeking to partner with one of four developer groups to provide new facilities for the organizations.
The city, according to multiple sources who would speak only on condition of anonymity, recently issued a confidential request for information to which it received four responses. The RFI asked developers to partner with the city to provide the USOC with additional athlete housing and a new headquarters building.
Although city officials refused the Business Journal’s oral request to see the RFI, participants in two developer groups confirmed that they had received it. Citing pledges of confidentiality to which all recipients had to agree, the developers declined to discuss its content.
Daryl Seibel, public communications chief at USOC, also declined to answer any specific questions, saying only that “we’re not at a point in the process to comment publicly.”
City officials have sought to keep even the existence of the current negotiations confidential because of fears that the USOC would somehow be “in play.”
According to this scenario, once other cities find out that the USOC might consider leaving Colorado Springs, it would trigger a bidding war that Colorado Springs couldn’t possibly win. Unable to match its deep-pocketed competitors, the city would lose one of its crown jewels.
But, as Mike Moran, who served as the USOC’s public communications officer for 25 years pointed out, other cities have frequently expressed interest in the USOC. During 2000, Indianapolis made what he described as “a very serious run,” which eventually came to nothing. During 2005, Denver offered to build an Olympic Hall of Fame, as well as ancillary facilities.
While a local project to update the USOC’s and OTC’s facilities has long been discussed, it has suddenly become a matter of extreme urgency.
Apparently disappointed by the sluggish response of the city, and by the inability of various developer groups to create coherent, workable plans, sources said the USOC began informal talks with cities which had expressed interest in creating facilities for the organization.
Denver was one such city. Other cities mentioned, include Chicago, San Diego and Las Vegas.
Tom Clark, executive vice president of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., said that neither his organization nor the Denver Chamber of Commerce had contacted the USOC, but he acknowledged that there have been discussions between “other” Denver groups and USOC.
When Springs leaders, both from the private and public sectors, became aware of these contacts, they asked the USOC to refrain from any negotiations until the city could present the organization with a definitive, achievable plan.
Sources said that the USOC has assigned California businessman/consultant James Didion, an associate of USOC board chairman Peter Ueberroth, the task of negotiating a deal with the city.
Several messages left for Didion were not returned. Calls seeking comment from USOC
In what the sources described as a testy exchange of letters between Didion and Springs community leaders, Didion gave the city until mid-October to develop a viable plan. That mandate created frenzied activity – the city’s RFI gave developer groups only five days to respond.
The city’s partnership with the USOC and with the Olympic Training Center began in 1978, when the city transferred the former Ent Air Force Base to the USOC.
From a collection of dilapidated World War II-era buildings, the facilities have evolved through the years into today’s bustling Olympic complex.
But, Moran said, the Olympic campus falls far short of the needs of today’s USOC.
USOC administrators are scattered throughout the complex, rather than being housed in a single, signature building, he said. Moreover, with the USOC’s single-minded focus on athlete performance, it’s vital that there be adequate and appropriate on-site housing for more athletes.
For the last several years, various developers and city officials have floated proposals for new facilities. Until voters forbade the city to even do preliminary planning for a convention center, it was thought that USOC might relocate downtown to a site adjacent to a new convention center near America the Beautiful Park.
Another proposal envisioned a USOC move to a site in northeast Colorado Springs.
Despite the apparent weakness of the city’s position, most participants in the process to whom the Business Journal spoke were reasonably confident that the city would prevail.
El Pomar Chairman and former USOC board Chairman Bill Hybl said today that he’s optimistic about the process.
“What we have here is good, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better,” he said. “Colorado Springs is a great home for the USOC, but you know, in the past, even when I was chair, there were always discussions (about possible relocations). They certainly have needs, especially for athlete housing. There are some things we can do. I’ve talked to the mayor, to (vice Mayor) Larry Small, and I’m confident that they, along with the private sector, will come up with something workable.”