Summit County not in the loop yet
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — A train headed for a 2022 rendezvous with the Winter Olympics is picking up some steam in Colorado, but so far, Summit County hasn’t hopped aboard.
Local sources familiar with the long-running effort to bring the games to the Mile High State say there hasn’t been much interest among local government and business leaders, even as Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Foundation are working behind the scenes with the Metro Denver Sports Commission to shape a possible bid.
“It’s been pretty quiet lately,” said Breckenridge Realtor Daniel Webster Johnson, who has been an informal contact in Summit County for a possible state bid for the games. Johnson said he last met with local officials about a half year ago, when the prevailing attitude was that “it will never happen.”
Summit County manager Gary Martinez and Breckenridge town manager Tim Gagen also said they hadn’t heard much in the way of recent discussion about a potential bid.
But in recent months, the push for the games has gained momentum, as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have both publicly voiced support for the idea of hosting the Olympics.
Most recently, Sen. Michael Bennet wrote to the U.S. Olympic Committee, urging the organization to resolve its ongoing dispute with the International Olympic Committee over revenue-sharing. According to Bennet’s letter, that would help open the door to a potential bid.
“It will happen,” Johnson said, adding that it would be good to have local stakeholders to be at the table early on to have some input on how Summit County could fit into a bid.
Former Summit Chamber of Commerce director Sharon Russell said the games could provide a huge economic boost to the county. She’s not aware of any specific local discussions related to the Olympics.
Both Russell and Johnson advocated for at least some level of Summit County involvement early in the process to make sure Summit is in the loop.
Responding to a request for feedback via Facebook, Sarah Thorsteinson said the Olympics could help boost local economies.
“I think the idea is wonderful,” said Thorsteinson, who advocates for the real estate community in the political arena. “What a great way to get our local economies going again! Also, when Flo Raitano was head of the I-70 coalition, she said that would be the fasted way to get high speed rail up the mountain. Also, I heard Mayor Warner on TV and he was a bit hesitant over concerns about congestion. I have also heard concerns about Breck not having enough beds. Personally though, I think its a GREAT idea,” she said.
“I think Summit County hosting some Olympic events would be good for the economy,” said Summit County resident Teresa Verplanck. “Breck has an outstanding terrain park, for starters. Plus there would be all that “free” worldwide advertising. Summit County has an excellent free public transportation system, and plenty of lodging,” she added.
Other Colorado residents aren’t so sure of the benefits.
“I was against hosting the Olympics in the state in 1976, and I am still against it. While we have a great winter sports tradition and ski mountains, we do not have the infrastructure to host the onslaught of folks who would try to get to events,” said “QuiverQueen,” a member of the Telemarktips forum.” Our venues would be spaced a lot farther apart than what Utah had, and frankly the mountain towns where events would be held cannot host the sheer numbers of people who would be seeking accommodations … I fear being stuck with horrendous bills and expensive, high-maintenance facilities when the Olympic train leaves town. Let someone else have the headaches and expensive legacy,” she added.
You can see the entire comment from QuiverQueen, as well as the rest of the comments at this TelemarkTips thread. The online community at TelemarkTips can be quirky, outspoken, opinionated, snarky and thoughtful, all at the same time.
Another TelemarkTips member looked at some of the potential positives:
“Colorado has most of the required infrastructure, handles loads of visitors on a consistent basis, and is in a far better position to host the OWGs than in the 1970s,” said “Mr. T,” a forum member based in Bellingham, Washington. “Denver is well-geared with arenas, airport, and better transportation than most other candidate cities.
“The alpine venues have sufficient capacity to hold alpine events.
“The sledding events will require expensive construction or re-use of Utah facilities.
“Nordic XC/Combined/Jumping/Biathlon events will need facilities development including standardized trails, jumps, and a biathlon range. Biathlon, XC, and Nordic Combined will need an override from the IBU and FIS because of altitude limitations strongly supported by the Scandinavian nations, the political powerhouses in ski governance.
“The OWGs are an amazing event to host and to attend.
“Colorado’s costs could be significantly less than other candidates,” he concluded.
Posting from Vancouver, TT member “Mekon” had this to say:
“We’ve been stuck with a hefty tab in B.C. for our glorious 2010 games. But actually, because the B.C. government won’t really tell us the truth about expenditures, no one will ever really know how much they added to our current account deficit. When my kid’s school library has a budget of literally $0, it’s a little hard to accept the charade that is the Olympic promise of untold tax and tourist revenues. I’m so glad that now our provincial budget is so broke (though the finance minister never seems to tell the truth, so who knows, we could have a surplus?) there is virtually no prospect of increased education funding, of public sector salary increases for another three years on top of current 2 year freezes (full disclosure, I am a public sector employee), etc. etc.
“I say: don’t bite, say no. That 2-week thrill is not worth it.”
Many more comments here.
Vail Resorts onboard
Vail Resorts spokesperson Kelly Ladyga confirmed that the company is participating in the early strategy sessions.
“We think this would be a terrific opportunity for Colorado. Other than that, it’s too premature to speculate about any details,” she said via email.
Vail Valley Foundation president Ceil Folz said the Olympics represent a huge opportunity for Vail and Colorado.
“We have been involved the behind-the-scenes, what-if discussions. The world championships are just a step away from the Olympics,” Folz said, suggesting that Vail’s experience in dealing with international markets would be a huge boost to putting together an Olympic bid.
The idea of a Colorado Winter Olympics dates back to at least the early 1970s, when the state won the right to host the 1976 games. Infamously, Colorado also became the first venue ever to reject the Olympics, when voters denied a bond measure needed to finance the games.
While some stakeholders think that rejection may have stained Colorado’s Olympic dreams indelibly, top IOC officials are on record as saying that the state could launch a new bid on a clean slate.
The biggest stumbling block at this point is the fact that the USOC isn’t formally entertaining any bidding process from host cities, pending resolution of a conflict over revenue sharing with the IOC. But that didn’t stop the Reno/Tahoe area from formally announcing its quest for the 2022 games.
The current Colorado discussions are somewhat muted because of the revenue-sharing dispute, said Metro Denver Sports Commission president KieAnn Brownell, who explained that Colorado stakeholders want to leave plenty of room for the USOC to maneuver on the always-delicate international Olympic stage.
The stalemate with the IOC led the U.S. Olympic group to pass on bidding for the 2020 Summer Games — and that opened the door for a potential 2022 Colorado try for the Winter Olympics, Brownell said.
“We want to move ourselves into the circle of consideration … if we all agree that it’s something we want to do,” she said.
Based on the recent Reno/Tahoe announcement, the competition could heat up in a hurry. The USOC would likely select a U.S. candidate city in 2013, and the The IOC will formally choose the 2022 venue in 2015.
There would be plenty of international competition for the Winter Games, as well, with at least 15 other countries prepared to enter the fray. Historically, the IOC has followed an informal rotation to keep things geographically diverse. Based on that pattern, North America could once again be in the on-deck circle.
In most news reports, A Colorado Olympics bid has been linked with the idea that it could lead to significant funding for transportation improvements — specifically some sort of high-speed rail system from Denver to the mountains.
But in reality, the timing of the bid process and the subsequent window for any construction might not mesh. Plus, there isn’t exactly a lot of extra cash floating around federal coffers these days, so it’s not likely that there would be a huge influx of government funding for transportation, as happened with some other recent Olympic venues.
In any case, a high-speed rail system probably wouldn’t be a formal part of a bid, Brownell said, adding that the I-70 corridor in it current condition more than meets the minimum requirements for holding the games.
Still, the Winter Olympics have surfaced on the Colorado Department of Transportation’s radar screen, according to officials in Summit County, who said they’ve heard discussions about what sort of deadlines the transportation agency might face in connection with the games.
I-70 already sees big waves of weekend traffic, with up to 20,000 skiers per day day visiting Breckenridge and Vail, and another 20,000 to 30,000 heading to Copper Mountain and Keystone.
Logistically, the venues for the games and timing of the events could probably be managed to fit within the existing constraints of the transportation infrastructure.