At every opportunity these days, Mayor John Suthers tells people about the U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame becoming reality.
Nothing wrong with that. The finances are done, the bonds are sold and the coast is clear for groundbreaking on Colorado Springs' next major tourist attraction. It's worth noting that the U.S. Olympic Committee shares in the gleeful anticipation, as CEO Scott Blackmun echoed Suthers' positive remarks last week during the annual Olympic Family Luncheon.
That enthusiasm is based on the belief that visitors will flock by the thousands, year-round, to see and feel the Olympic experience. Already, plans have solidified around how to immerse everyday people in a personalized, educational, inspirational way. The architectural design will stand out, and the exhibits are being created by the same group who put together the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
It all sounds perfect, and city leaders are convinced the Olympic Museum will ignite a new era of development for downtown Colorado Springs.
That may be true, but the other puzzle pieces still don't fit. And if you need to see for yourself, drive to the corner of Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street, get out and look around.
You won't see much. The site has been cleared, and construction crews will not interrupt everyday life because the area is mostly empty. Nothing will impede the building project, easily accessible from three directions.
Go there now before work begins, and you'll likely have the same thought that pesters me: How will the rest of southwest downtown look when the Olympic Museum is done?
The adjacent stadium and events center fell through, then organizers pushed for the World War II Aviation Museum to expand there as a replacement for the City for Champions package. But the state refused.
My concern switched to parking and infrastructure, including a pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks connecting the museum with America the Beautiful Park. Much digging unearthed a four-page document that answers the questions. It's called "Southwest Colorado Springs Downtown Infrastructure Required Eligible Improvements" to go with the Olympic Museum. And hard as it was to find, it proves everything is in order.
That $10.6 million pedestrian bridge, more than 240 feet long, is fully funded: $7.1 million from bond proceeds, $3.5 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Actually, the bridge was included on the PPRTA renewal ballot issue at $1.1 million, but the PPRTA board since has more than tripled its commitment. Without more details, the best guess is that PPRTA has more tax revenue than projected because of the strong economy. We've seen money added to other projects as well.
The museum parking requirement means spaces for about 360 vehicles, based on predicted busiest times. That breaks down to about 250 parking spots on streets within two blocks of the museum, with overflow directed to the county-owned parking structure west of Centennial Hall, which has about 200 available spots on most weekdays, more on weekends.
PPRTA also is helping with "streetscape improvements" near the museum, providing $2.4 million of the $4.45 million total. Besides that, overhead utilities are going underground and new connections for electric, water, sewer and gas will be installed. It's all approved, so don't worry about contingencies. But it doesn't feel like the total package.
There's no doubt the Olympic Museum will be breathtaking. But what else will complete the surrounding area? Are we on the verge of another surprise in the form of a commercial, residential or other undertaking?
Nobody is talking, which forces us to brainstorm. My latest idea was to partner with the Air Force Academy and build a new Falcon Stadium downtown to replace the aging facility on AFA grounds. Having Air Force football as the marquee tenant would create a wonderful new atmosphere, but it hasn't found traction.
The most popular concept being floated is a downtown convention center, which requires voter approval unless it's all privately funded. If it could be connected to The Broadmoor, boosting the famed resort's capacity for attracting large groups, helping other downtown hotels and enhanced by proximity to the Olympic Museum, that could become the answer.
For now, it's a wonderful, cutting-edge museum — and nothing else, which doesn't make sense. As soon as we know more, we'll join in the excitement. But until those puzzle pieces fit, we're still in the dark.