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Mortgages, not medals



The vast majority of the U.S. Olympic Committee's downtown headquarters has been occupied since April, but you wouldn't know it.

USOC offices take up all the upper levels of the building on the northeast corner of Tejon Street and Colorado Avenue. But the lower level — once envisioned as the site of a USOC-themed interactive tourist attraction — until recently was home to little more than dust and banners advertising available space.

These days, however, there are new banners up, hailing the upcoming arrival of a tenant.

"It's certainly ground zero in downtown, and we decided it was time for us to have a downtown office," says Roy Clennan, founder and president of Freedom Financial Services. "This location is easy walking distance for all the professionals that work downtown."

But while exciting for Clennan (perhaps best known for his "If you like the service, tell a friend ... if not, tell me, I'll fix it" motto), the move is notable to most of us for one reason only: It brings us closer to ending the fiasco that was the USOC economic development deal.

As you may recall, the city agreed in 2008 to partially finance a new headquarters building, a new National Governing Bodies office building, and improvements to the Olympic Training Center in a bid to keep the USOC from relocating. The first deal, with LandCo Equity Partners, fell apart amid lawsuits and a criminal investigation.

The contract was renegotiated (at a cost to taxpayers of about $31 million before interest) — with LandCo left out of the deal. But LandCo retained ownership of the ground floor and basement level of the downtown headquarters building, which it could lease out. That little provision came as a disappointment to people who had liked LandCo's original suggestion to open it up for an Olympic-related attraction.

However, no one was happy when the property sat vacant for months on end.

"I'm just pleased to have a tenant in there," City Councilor Scott Hente says. "In this economy, you've just kind of got to take what you can get, and I think having a good financial company in there, that has good reputation, is a good thing."

Chelsy Murphy, spokesperson for Experience Colorado Springs, the convention and visitors bureau, echoes that sentiment. She says that it's the Olympic Training Center — not the headquarters building — that's the real tourist attraction. (A total of 121,000 visited the Training Center in 2009.) But, she says, having the building and its iconic rings downtown helps brand the Springs as an Olympic city — even without an athletically themed first-floor tenant.

Freedom will take up only a corner of the first floor, but it's likely other tenants will follow. The first floor and a lower level are now jointly owned (80-20 percent) by 27 South Tejon Partners II (a group of investors) and 27 South Tejon Investors (the people behind LandCo). It's the Partners, led by Don Lester, of Rubicon Alliance, who have led the leasing effort. Lester could not be reached for comment, but John Stinar, an attorney for the Investors, says he believed that there are other interested parties.

Freedom, a Springs-based business that now has offices in 15 states, deals specifically with mortgage loans and refinancing. It will move in once renovations are complete, and its two other Springs offices will remain open.

Says Clennan: "I'm bullish on the Springs."

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