The 2020 Olympics were postponed until this summer, but that didn’t stop Colorado Springs, Colorado — home of the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee and no fewer than 24 national governing bodies — from enhancing its status as a gold-medal sports tourism destination over the past 18 months.
The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum and the William J. Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs debuted in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. And this year, Weidner Field and the Ed Robson Arena (collectively known as the Colorado Sports and Events Center) will both be open.
All four facilities are part of the City for Champions project. The unprecedented series of developments, approved by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade in 2013 and funded through a regional tourism tax and fundraising efforts, is finally becoming reality, thanks to countless supporters and community collaborations.
And the city is not done yet. Approximately a dozen new hotel projects are in various stages of construction and are slated to open in late 2021 and throughout 2022. Plus, several sporting events originally scheduled for 2020 but postponed because of the pandemic have been rescheduled for this year and next, according to Cheryl McCullough, senior director of sports and events for Visit Colorado Springs, which has taken a lead role in the City for Champions project.
“For us to have such a great rebound speaks volumes about our desirable destination,” she says. “We’re centrally located, there’s so many great things to do and see in the area, and most people who come here spend extra days and combine their events with a vacation.”
U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum
No visit to Colorado Spring will now be complete without a trip to what USA TODAY named the country’s “Best New Attraction” in 2020. McCullough refers to the 60,000-square-foot U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum, which opened in July 2020, as the “crown jewel of Olympic City USA.”
Designed by New York City-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro to be one of the most accessible museums in the world — accommodating the full range of physical and cognitive abilities — the facility has garnered additional national attention from The New York Times, Architectural Digest and Conde Nast Traveler.
The museum is dedicated to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their compelling stories, which are told via artifacts, media and technology, and it is the only one of its kind in the United States.
“It was a difficult year to open something like that — when people weren’t traveling,” McCullough says. “But for the museum to open in the year when the Olympics were supposed to take place was important, and I’m actually very pleased that it did. They were having challenges getting building materials, but that has become an even bigger hurdle now for commercial construction projects.”
With a soft opening last year, an official “Colorado Grand Opening” celebration took place in July and August (and beyond), timed to coincide with the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Events included athlete meet-and-greets, sport demonstrations and live entertainment, highlighted by a free, four-day USOPM Tokyo Games Fan Fest.
McCullough notes that the museum has quickly become popular with groups that bring competitions, conferences and meetings to Colorado Springs and book receptions or group tours at the venue. “Along with the U.S. Air Force Academy and Pikes Peak, it’s become a must-do while you’re here,” she says.
Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center
Another first-of-its-kind facility that opened in Colorado Springs in 2020 is the Hybl Sports Medicine & Performance Center on the UCCS campus. The partnership between the university and Centaura Health integrates undergraduate and graduate education with clinical practice and research. An estimated 1,500 exercise science, human anatomy, physiology, athletic training and nutrition students study in the facility.
“It’s a performance center where students can get real-world experience with actual sports medicine patients,” McCullough says. “There also are opportunities for people who may not have sports-related injuries to receive treatment.”
As a result, she anticipates medical tourism — a burgeoning industry in which patients and their families travel to obtain specialized medical treatment — to become more prevalent in the Colorado Springs community. “We also would like to work with local conferences and conventions that are medical related and have them do classes at the center or take a tour,” McCullough adds. “It all depends on the focus of that particular event.”
Colorado Sports and Events Center
Intended to host Olympic, professional and amateur sporting events, as well as entertainment and cultural events, the arena and outdoor stadium that comprise the Colorado Sports and Events Center will both be open by year’s end.
Weidner Field, the 15,000-seat (8,000 permanent seats, with room for 7,000 additional seats on the field) home of the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC, a member of the USL Championship soccer league, opened in April. The facility, which takes its name from Weidner Apartment Homes, boasts synthetic Corkonut® turf and is part of an emerging mixed-use residential and commercial development in downtown Colorado Springs. It’s open for a variety of non-sports events, too.
The Ed Robson Arena (named after a Colorado College alumnus who donated $8 million to the construction of the hockey arena) will open on the Colorado College campus in October and hold more than 3,000 spectators for ice events and other events hosted in partnership with local Olympic national governing bodies. 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.
“We’re always looking at what we can do to provide championship venues for tournaments that come to town,” McCullough says. “These facilities will help with that.”
Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain
Construction is ongoing at Pikes Peak, too, which is one of the most-visited mountains in the world and a top tourist attraction in the State of Colorado.
The Pikes Peak Summit Visitors Center opened in June following three years of construction. The $65 million structure allows for unobstructed panoramic views from more than 14,000 feet above sea level. Early reports indicate approximately 5,000 people per day visit the center, which is operated by Pikes Peak-America’s Mountain (an enterprise of the City of Colorado Springs) through a special-use permit from the U.S. Forest Service. “It is the highest-altitude visitor center in the world,” McCullough says.
Incidentally, Pikes Peak will be the site of a four-day mountain bike challenge called Pikes Peak APEX, to be held Sept. 23-26. A fundraiser for the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance’s Trail Stewardship Fund, the event debuted last year and takes place on what McCullough calls “exhilarating, exceptionally crafted routes through dirt roads, jeep trails and the amazing alpine single track that is quintessential Pikes Peak.”
The rigorous Rocky Mountain trail experience through Colorado’s backcountry is expected to draw not only professional riders from around the world, but also amateur cyclists looking for a memorable endurance experience.
And as if all that’s not enough, the final piece of the City for Champions project will break ground later this year. The relocation and expansion of the Gateway Visitors Center at the United States Air Force Academy 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.
Located adjacent to Interstate 25, the project will allow for a major expansion of exhibits and improved audio-visual capabilities that will result in a museum-like experience. The exterior of the 35,000-square-foot structure will feature four white, wing-like roofs to represent the beauty and splendor of flight.
“With our dedication to sports-related attractions, wellness facilities, events and sports venues, Colorado Springs is truly living up to being Olympic City USA,” McCullough says. SDM