Opinion: Everything you think about a Colorado Olympics is wrong

Posted at 12:41 PM, Sep 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-17 15:45:59-04

The Winter Olympics belong in Colorado.

This state is known for its beautiful mountain resorts. They’d make a gorgeous backdrop for the global spectacle that is the Olympics. Yet, when Denver7 asked for viewer opinion about a Colorado Olympics, reaction was nearly split down the middle. 54 percent said they’d welcome the Games with open arms; 46 percent said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) can take a hike.

The detractors continually come back to a few key points. As I outline the reasons Colorado should bid on the 2026 Games, I’d like to address each of those arguments individually.

“We don't have the infrastructure to support the people who live here, let alone an international event.”

True! I-70 needs to be widened to accommodate the flow of traffic from Denver to the mountains. That’s true with or without the Olympics.

The state of Utah dealt with a similar problem in the run-up to the 2002 Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City leaders knew they needed to widen the I-15 corridor to handle the heavy volume of traffic during the Games. The upgrades took $1.3 billion and four years. 

Today – 15 years after the Games ended – the city continues to benefit from the gleaming highway that connects their airport with ski resorts.

The state of Colorado could see a similar benefit. The looming Olympics would incentivize state government to approve an expansion of I-70. Once the work is done, and the Games are gone, that highway would continue to serve as a pipeline for tourists and locals alike to get to the mountains. This arrangement is a win-win.

Utah, by the way, paid for its infrastructure overhaul by diverting about 3 percent of sales tax revenue toward roads. Colorado state leaders have spent the last decade kicking around various infrastructure spending proposals. The Olympics could be the fuel that forces lawmakers to act.

“Yeah, let's waste a bunch of money making structures that will never be used again.”

If you base your opinion solely on the past two decades of Olympics, then you’ll have no trouble believing this argument. We all watched the accommodations fall apart at the 2014 Sochi games. Cities like Nagano (1998) and Turin (2006) never blossomed into the tourist meccas they set out to become by bidding on the Olympics.

The difference with Colorado is simple: There’s no need to build more arenas. We have plenty.

There are already world-class facilities to house ski and snowboard events. 

The same is true for ice-based events like hockey and figure skating. Semifinal and final rounds can be hosted at the Pepsi Center. 

Qualifying round events can happen at the Denver Coliseum, the Broadmoor World Arena, DU’s Magness Arena or Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center. Organizers could also retrofit some venues that aren’t typically used for ice events, like Broomfield’s 1stBank center or the Coors Event Center at CU-Boulder.

There’s only one sport-specific venue that Colorado is missing: A bobsled track. For reference, PyeongChang just built a bobsled park for the 2018 Olympics. It cost $115 million. Here in Colorado, it’s conceivable that one of our resorts would build a similar park for the 2026 Olympics. They’d always have the option to convert the facility into a mixed-use venue once the Games are finished.

“Can't have a Super Bowl here because there are not enough hotel rooms so how could you have the Olympics here?”

This one requires some math.

The IOC approved PyeongChang’s bid for 2018. That city had 76,000 available hotel rooms, which the IOC deemed sufficient for media, athletes and spectators.

There are about 55,000 available hotel rooms in Denver, Colorado Springs and the resort towns combined, according to an estimate from Cvent. That means total capacity would need to increase by 39 percent between now and 2026 – which could happen regardless of the Olympics, as developers swoop in to build new hotels across the Front Range.

There’s no need to invest in an athlete’s village, either. Olympic organizers can turn to any of our top-rated colleges for dormitory housing. They could also get creative and lock down entire resorts. Either way, there’s no reason to spend a ton of money.

“They're a ripoff. They destroy the economy afterward and leave useless infrastructure everywhere.”

As we’ve covered in previous sections, there likely won’t be much infrastructure buildout associated with a Colorado Olympic bid. The infrastructure that is built will provide a genuine benefit for people long after the Games are gone. 

But there’s one point that flies under the radar when it comes to the economic impact: The Olympics need a city like Denver.

Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past, cities lined up to overpay for the privilege of hosting the Games. And, as we outlined above, that strategy proved to be a big loser.

Times have changed. More than a dozen cities already canceled their bids for the 2026 Games. Today, there are only four legitimate bids on the table. Two of them (Austria and Norway) could be pulled due to public backlash. That leaves a hypothetical Denver bid competing against Calgary and Sion, Switzerland – two cities that require a much larger infrastructure investment than Colorado.

Meantime, the IOC is desperate to hold the Games in a marquee city. Just look at the deal they made with Los Angeles for 2028. 

The city is only spending $5.3 billion to host the Games. They’re projected to generate a record $4.5 billion in revenue just from hosting fees, ticket sales and local sponsorships. Factor in the hundreds of millions of dollars in other sponsorships and tax revenue and L.A. could become the first city in recent memory to turn a profit on the Olympics. If Denver were to sign a similar deal, the city could see a similar outcome.

Are there still questions to be answered? Sure.

Would there be headaches? Absolutely.

Would it be worth it to bring a global spotlight to our city? Just ask Robert Lyon, a U.S. bobsledder who lives in Park City.

“It left an amazing impact I think in this community. Everyone would tell you … we would love to have it again someday.”