Two guys sit in a little-known restaurant, talking over lunch about why Colorado Springs seems to be stuck in neutral, unable to agree on a new direction, a new agenda, a new vision.
These men aren't distant spectators. They've been close to the action. They've seen the smart decisions and the mistakes. They disagree on some views, but that's OK because underneath it all, they want the same thing — for Colorado Springs to enjoy a true renaissance in our lifetime. They don't care who gets the credit, as long as it happens, starting as soon as possible.
They aren't blaming anybody in particular for the city's indecisiveness. After all, we've been busy changing our form of government, electing and adjusting to a full-time mayor, dealing with power struggles and differing priorities, coping with a long economic downturn and slow recovery.
Still, something's missing. Somebody has to come up with a blueprint for everyone to embrace, from elected officials to business owners and everyday working people.
My lunch partner, who doesn't want his name mentioned, calls that elusive idea the Next Big Thing for our city. He's not exactly sure what it is, except that it probably would involve the downtown area in some way. We agree on that thought as our conversation ends. But the brainstorming has just begun.
In the days since, I've been fixated on an experience from a visit last month to New Orleans. My wife and I spent a morning at the National World War II Museum there, a phenomenal addition to an aging area of that city's downtown, next to a major freeway. Aside from the history lesson, I came away admiring how that attraction, helped by a recent major expansion, obviously is helping the Big Easy in its long-term recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
I also wondered why we couldn't have something like that, boosting our own tourism industry — and our community pride — in years to come. John Hazlehurst broached the subject in his City Sage column last week, but that was solely about revitalizing one area. This would have to be different.
Eventually I recalled a series of events from a quarter-century ago, and how we almost had it right in 1986. Local leaders were pushing for a U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, which would become an enduring magnet for millions of visitors. Architects were coming up with designs in their own time, trying to produce something instantly iconic, hopefully comparable to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis or the Space Needle in Seattle.
My favorite was a concept of the five Olympic rings, bathed in colored lights, rising high into the air atop separate cylinders and angled for maximum viewing effect — all within sight of Interstate 25, close enough and stunning enough that nobody could ever miss it, or forget it.
Sadly, that Hall of Fame never became reality. The site was moved east of the city, on land donated to the U.S. Olympic Committee by Banning Lewis Ranch developer Frank Aries, and there was actually a groundbreaking. But soon the savings-and-loan debacle shut down Aries, local development and the Hall of Fame. Luckily for us, no other city has seized the opportunity.
So here's my idea: We finally create our own Olympic mecca, right here, starting with that Hall of Fame and its architectural wonder. We build an interactive museum, amassing the world's best collection of Olympic artifacts, with a state-of-the-art theater to showcase all the remarkable video work of filmmaker Bud Greenspan as well as retrospectives from so many Olympiads.
Every month — or even every week in the summer — the complex could host different Olympic heroes, who could talk about their experiences and meet anyone visiting the museum, including local members. Current athletes could provide exhibitions, and shuttles could take people to see the Olympic Training Center. Surely a major hotel chain would jump on the chance to build an adjacent hotel, surrounded by an array of restaurants, bars and businesses, perhaps even a condominium complex.
Exactly where, you ask? Perhaps in the vicinity of America the Beautiful Park, or in the nearby southwest downtown area once envisioned for a Sky Sox baseball park. But this wouldn't be a one-sport stadium. It would become America's true home for the Olympic movement and its history, paid for by a large public-private partnership, bringing visitors by the millions to Colorado Springs for generations to come.
In other words, the Next Big Thing.