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Olympic wait nears an end


After months of negotiating, discussing and maneuvering, the U.S. Olympic Committee at last appears on the verge of announcing that its headquarters will stay in Colorado Springs.

As of Friday morning, the City Council had scheduled a special meeting for Monday afternoon to consider the city's agreement with the USOC. Also, the city planned to release the full agreement to the public sometime Friday afternoon.

If the council votes to accept the agreement, as apparently will be the case by a clear margin, the USOC board of directors then will take its action on the much-negotiated agreement with the city that would move the organization's offices downtown and catalyze a major renovation of the Olympic Complex, including expansion of the training center.

If nothing had happened by the end of March, sources on both sides say we might not know until mid-April. Now it appears the reality could come on March 31.

Here's what we know: There is a deal, hammered out late last year and strengthened in recent months (even days) as the city has responded to requests with stronger documentation. USOC board members weren't seriously weighing other options, contrary to what you might have heard from other local media.

This isn't, and it hasn't been, Colorado Springs vs. Chicago, Denver or any other city. It has been USOC leaders weighing the recommendation of their designated point man, California real estate mogul Jim Didion, to accept the agreement with Colorado Springs. Taking that a step further, the USOC board has been engaged in a philosophical debate on whether Colorado Springs still is the best place for the Olympic House headquarters, now and for the next generation.

From what we hear, some of the USOC's 12-member board weren't so sure about the Springs. They were fine with the training center staying here, but they wonder if the offices should be in a larger city.

On this end, that didn't make sense. A major part of the American Olympic movement's strength has been having the nucleus here, with offices for the USOC and 21 member sports in one place, all in close proximity to the training center and athletes. We could talk about the lower cost of living and actually running a large organization out of Colorado Springs, saving more money for the top priority of preparing athletes for the Olympics and other competitions.

Yet, this juncture created an opportunity for the USOC. Its board knows the value of the Olympic presence to Colorado Springs, and this is the opportunity to capitalize on that. By leveraging the Olympic House's location to get help in moving offices and adding training-center space, the USOC was being smart.

Some skeptics will say the Springs should let the USOC offices leave, as long as the athletes and visitor center stay. That might sound palatable, but in truth any city with enough resources to pursue the headquarters would push all the harder for the whole package. It's also true that, if Olympic House were to leave town, many individual sports inevitably would follow. That's a lot of jobs and economic impact.

Along the way, our Gazette friends misread the situation. After the USOC board's Feb. 22 meeting in Atlanta, when directors put off the issue, there was a splashy two-day Gazette series about Chicago's two possible sites, Sears Tower and Navy Pier, with both stories indicating the USOC was actively considering them.

In reality, the Olympic folks have not been pondering alternatives. They asked Didion to check out possibilities and bring back an unbiased recommendation. For months, Didion has dealt with the Colorado Springs city government.

There has been no actual negotiation with any other city, despite rumors and stories. Those options have been out there, if Didion and/or the USOC decided against Colorado Springs. But the process has been vertical, not horizontal. The USOC, which will have to live with this decision for years to come, has moved deliberately, just to be sure.

Now, finally, the pieces appear to be falling into place. Without doubt, there will be some negative feedback Monday, but the city leaders know that, and most of them are determined to make this happen.

In truth, the citys leaders deserve praise this time. They saw a serious looming threat to Colorado Springs, and they quietly decided last fall that it would be better to win than lose. They persevered, through delay after delay, knowing they were doing the right thing.

Yes, the deal has pushed Colorado Springs to the max. Yet, the City Council and Mayor Lionel Rivera they faced a tough question: How much permanent damage would have come from the USOC leaving, compared to the positive aura of saving the Olympic presence in a much more prominent downtown location?

They decided it was worth the political risk to keep the Olympic Committee here. They made the right choice, and as weve said before, it truly will be a boon for the downtown area.

And now, with all that in place, Colorado Springs next challenge will be to build on that identity, even more forcefully and proactively than ever before.

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