This memory goes back more than a decade, to a conversation from around 1996.
Those were heady times for Colorado Springs, with its robust economy and steady growth. And the city had succeeded on another front, with a privately led campaign raising enough money to build a multipurpose arena south of downtown. The new Colorado Springs World Arena would fill the void left by The Broadmoor closing and tearing down its original World Arena in 1994.
But that arena didn't come easily, even during much better times. Perhaps the city could help with infrastructure and nearby development, but nobody wanted to ask voters for help paying for the new building, no matter how dire the need. It had to be private money.
As construction began, I recall being told something profound. I'm almost positive the source was former Mayor Bob Isaac, who was still in office at that time and was never afraid to share his views on any pertinent subject.
"You know, Colorado Springs has always been this way. The people here have never wanted to pay for anything. They've always waited around until somebody would pay for it. First it was Gen. [William] Palmer, then [Winfield Scott] Stratton, Spencer Penrose and Thayer Tutt, and some of the downtown bankers like Chase Stone. The people never had to do much, because eventually, somebody wrote the check. And that might never change."
It hasn't. In recent times, El Pomar Foundation has used its money to help make the city a better place in many ways: for instance, by building the Pikes Peak Center and the World Arena, and by enhancing the Olympic movement however possible, even providing offices for the lower-budget member sports.
That's not about to change, either.
William J. "Bill" Hybl, El Pomar's chairman/CEO and former two-time USOC president, remains at 67 the best example of real power in this city. He's rarely in the spotlight, but always aware and involved as much as needed. So it's no surprise now that El Pomar's generosity is playing a visible role in the newly revised deal to maintain the U.S. Olympic Committee's presence in Colorado Springs for at least 30 more years.
Already, the foundation had sweetened the pot by helping fund a refurbished office building for Olympic sports next to America the Beautiful Park. Now, with the city pushed to its limits and no longer aided by a private developer, El Pomar has come through again with another $1.5 million in matching funds to combine with private donations. That money has to be in place within a few months. In two more years, another $3 million in private funds must be raised, for a total of $6 million.
But don't be expecting a big, high-pressure public campaign for that $4.5 million in private cash. Because it won't happen that way.
Not in this town. Not with our history.
Rest assured, the city didn't just arbitrarily come up $6 million short in restructuring the Olympic deal. Nobody pulled that number out of a hat. The city leaders pushed it as far as they could, after some missteps along the way, but only stretched themselves so far for a reason: because they know that money is coming. Some way, somehow.
Months ago (in other words, not last week), a small group of local people began — with Hybl's blessing, of course — identifying potential donors to help this cause with the initial $1.5 million, and then the $3 million later. Nobody will talk about it, in part because nobody has to. After all, it's private money.
Here's the bottom line: Forget about the mayor and City Council. Bill Hybl will not let the Olympic Committee leave Colorado Springs on his watch.
Others will help. They will quietly write checks, because they can. Most won't care about getting any credit.
And if the total doesn't make it high enough, later this year or at the final 2011 deadline, El Pomar will cover the difference.
Most other cities don't have this luxury. Most others would have to come up with that money, or else. Most people in Colorado Springs also have no idea how lucky we are.
But that's apparently the way it's always been.