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‘City for Champions’ Project Taking Olympic City USA to New Levels

4 Sep, 2019

By: Michael Popke

No other destination in the United States is as deserving of the nickname “Olympic City USA” as Colorado Springs, Colorado. Want proof? As home of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and no fewer than 23 national governing bodies, this city of almost 500,000 residents now is spearheading the City for Champions project.

This unprecedented set of projects was approved by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade back in 2013, thanks to countless supporters and community collaborations. The funding will result in the development of five new tourism venues, from a stadium and arena project to a sports medicine and performance center, that will reflect not only the Olympic spirit but also the spirit of Colorado Springs.

“This project speaks volumes to who we are as a community,” says Cheryl McCullough, director of sports and special events for Visit Colorado Springs, which has taken a lead role in the City for Champions project. “Our destination was founded on tourism, and we have a very robust sports and medical ecosystem here. It just fits with everything in our culture and history.”

Two New Venues for 2020
Made possible with money from the Colorado Regional Tourism Act, as well as funds raised through capital campaigns, local businesses and individuals, the City for Champions project is expected to forever solidify Colorado Springs’ reputation as a national and regional sports, health and fitness hub by further boosting its $2.4 billion annual tourism industry.

According to the project’s dedicated website, the new venues will bring an estimated 1.2 million new visitors to the city each year, including more than 500,000 new out-of-state visitors. They also will increase retail sales by $140 million annually and add $4.4 million in new sales tax revenue for the city each year. Additionally, more than 5,100 jobs are expected to be created.

The first City for Champions venue slated for completion will be the United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame, which was designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro to be the most accessible museum in the world, able to be experienced regardless of physical disability or cognitive differences. To that end, representatives from the museum, as well as exhibit fabrication partner CREO Industrial Arts, invited local Olympic and Paralympic athletes and community members to test some of the exhibit technology and provide feedback earlier this year.

“It will be a very high-tech, high-touch experience, with lots of virtual reality and other digital experiences,” McCullough says.
“Inspired by the movement of athletes, [the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame] spirals up and outwards from a central atrium, drawing the public in at its base and propelling them through the galleries,” Elizabeth Diller, a partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, said when plans were unveiled four years ago.

“The museum and hall of fame is being built right in our downtown corridor,” McCullough adds, citing the building’s soaring contemporary design. “You can see it from various locations throughout the city.”

Initial exhibits will include “Journey to Excellence,” “Science & Technology Lab,” “Athlete Training” and “Parade of Nations.” Although the USOPC is keeping details about specific items to be displayed under tight wraps, McCullough reveals that the scoreboard that hung above center ice at what is now known as Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York, when Team USA won the 1980 gold medal in men’s hockey, will be on display.

Construction of the 60,000-square-foot museum and hall of fame is expected to be finished this fall, with the facility slated to open in the spring of 2020.

The second City for Champions venue slated for completion will be the 104,000-square-foot William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. This first-of-its-kind facility is expected to open in summer 2020 and will integrate undergraduate and graduate education with clinical practice and research in a sports medicine and performance environment.

Penrose St. Francis Centura Health will manage the clinical operations, and 1,500 human anatomy, exercise science, physiology, athletic training and nutrition students are projected to study in the facility.

“Sports medicine is another market for us,” McCullough says, referring to the burgeoning industry in which patients and their families travel to obtain specialized medical treatment. “Medical tourism is a relatively new market that is becoming robust.”

Embracing Colorado Springs as a medical tourism destination dates back to the late 1800s, when healing mineral waters, ample sunshine and fresh mountain air made the region a popular recovery choice for people suffering from tuberculosis, she adds.

More New Venues for 2021
Two other sports facilities that are part of the City for Champions project are slated for completion in 2021. Collectively, they will be known as the Colorado Sports and Event Center and will be designed to host Olympic, professional and amateur sporting events, as well as entertainment and cultural events.

The Downtown Stadium will serve as the permanent home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a member of the USL Championship soccer league, with 10,000 spectator seats for sporting events and up to 20,000 for concerts. The venue is being built in partnership with Weidner Apartment Homes, and it will be part of a mixed-use residential and commercial development in downtown Colorado Springs.

Meanwhile, the Edward J. Robson Arena, named after a Colorado College alumnus, will be built at Colorado College and will hold 3,000 fans for ice and other events in partnership with local Olympic national governing bodies. The planned arena is comparable in size to those at colleges and universities with a similar number of students that have Division I hockey programs. Additionally, the facility will allow Colorado College’s hockey team to play games on campus for the first time since the program started in 1938.

McCullough notes that neither of the venues that comprise the Colorado Sports and Event Center will duplicate the offerings of other sports facilities in the area. Thus, they will bring new opportunities to Colorado Springs and provide new destinations for event planners. She adds that their strategic downtown location will offer high visibility, easy access to amenities and special experiences for participants and spectators.

That’s Not All
The final phase of the City for Champions project will include the relocation and expansion of the Gateway Visitors Center at the United States Air Force Academy. This effort will emphasize the impact of the Academy — which has called Colorado Springs home since the mid-1950s — on the city, while also honoring another type of champion.

“The entire City for Champions project celebrates everything we, as a city, are about,” McCullough says.

To accommodate the anticipated tourism boost, Colorado Springs also will soon be home to new hotels in the downtown area, bringing the city’s inventory of rooms to more than 14,500.

All of this new development is taking place as the Colorado Springs area continues to host sporting events — including, this year alone, the Rocky Mountain State Games, the USA Roller Sports Outdoor Speed Skating National Championships, the Adrenaline Lacrosse Western Shootout, the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association’s Presidents’ Day Hockey Youth Tournament, the Colorado Springs Dragon Boat National Championships, the 64th Annual Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, and the 79th Annual Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo.

The City for Champions projects will only serve to make Colorado Springs an even more enticing destination for sporting events of all kinds, and McCullough and her staff are up to the task.

“We’re excited,” she says. “We cannot wait.” SDM

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