City for Champions deserves full support

Mayor Steve Bach’s City for Champions is a big idea that deserves broad-based community support.

Colorado Springs is graced by having a number of world-class institutions located in its midst. The City for Champions concept arises from the well-placed belief that Colorado Springs should embrace and incorporate its world-class assets into its public identity, personality and brand.

Doing so will make Colorado Springs a more vibrant and desirable city, and a more intriguing place to visit and vacation. Two of our special assets deserving the spotlight are the Air Force Academy and the U.S. Olympic Committee with its Olympic Training Center.

Developing a new, state-of-the-art Air Force Academy visitor center is long overdue. The current center is tired and buried deep within the cadet area of Academy grounds. It’s little more than a retail store … and it could be so much more.

Beginning with its first entering class in 1955, USAFA cadets have distinguished themselves in the classroom, on the field of play and the field of battle. More than 400 graduates have achieved the rank of general, and close to 40 have earned four stars. In addition, the Academy has produced 39 NASA astronauts, more than any other school except the Naval Academy, and many cadets have achieved notable success in both the private and public sectors after finishing their military careers.

None of this grand history and tradition is presented in the current visitor center. Locating a new, world-class, robust visitor center outside the secured perimeter will provide much more reliable and easier public access from Interstate 25, surely resulting in increased annual visitation.

The USOC has been based in Colorado Springs since 1978, and “our” Olympic Training Center is the main facility supporting summer and winter sports. Having a fitting Olympic museum is also long overdue. The tribute wall atop Pikes Peak is nice, but it’s limited in scope, story-telling ability and attendance potential.

There are so many interesting and inspiring stories to present about Olympic athletes and Paralympians, and interactive experiences to enjoy that could give visitors a taste of what it’s like to train for and compete at world-class levels … to achieve the pinnacle of success representing the USA in Olympic competition, and to be part of the Olympic history and tradition.

I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in creating and producing two NASA visitor center projects: Space Center Houston at the Johnson Space Center, and the Apollo Saturn V Center at Kennedy Space Center, and producing guest experiences at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.

Part of what makes each of these visitor center projects so special, and successful, is that each is located on “hallowed ground” — the real places where real people are engaged in the tasks and activities presented and portrayed in each place. The Olympic museum and USAFA visitor center projects share this characteristic.

Real stuff happens here, too … real people train and work here … real people commit themselves to achieving what to most would seem unimaginable and unachievable. And real people dedicate themselves to protecting American lives and assisting people around the world.

I know from experience that artfully crafting a mix of exhibition and presentation techniques to communicate understandings about the real world and extraordinary human endeavors can at once be entertaining, informing and inspiring, and such experiences can lift the human spirit.

City for Champions is an idea whose time has come. A new, relocated AFA visitor center, an Olympic museum, a Sports Medicine and Performance Center in collaboration with UCCS, and a downtown baseball stadium all combine synergistically in ways that will add special identity, energy, pride and economy to the city.

Let’s celebrate who we are and support this grand vision!

Pat Scanlon of Colorado Springs is a creator and producer of world-class attraction/visitor destination projects for the Walt Disney Co., NASA, Polynesian Cultural Center, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and other clients. He has provided consulting services to The Broadmoor, Mystic Sea Life Aquarium, Sports Capital Partners and the Schuck Corp., among others. Contact him at patscanlon@mac.com.