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NOlympics Colorado Wants A Denver Vote If Taxpayer Money Is Involved In Olympics

winter_olympics_2006.jpg
Marc Piscotty/Rocky Mountain News
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Denver Public Library Images
A historic photo of the Opening Ceremonies for the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

The group NOlympics Colorado is concerned that taxpayers might be asked to provide funds for a Winter Olympics. They're preparing to go to voters with a question: Should there be a vote before an Olympics is allowed to come to the state?

Such a vote could come as soon as this November or in early 2019. Even though mountain communities could see events, only Denver would be part of the vote. That's where Mayor Michael Hancock has launched an Olympics Exploratory Committee with the blessing of Gov. John Hickenlooper. The committee is tasked with recommending whether a Winter Olympics would be good for for the state.

If the exploratory committee gives a thumbs-up, it would be the first step for Denver to bid on the games, probably to be held in 2030 or 2034.

Estimates put the cost of a Winter Olympics in Colorado at as much as $2 billion. Roughly half could be covered by the International Olympic Committee. For the remainder, the exploratory committee is looking at things like private financing, ticket sales, sponsorships, merchandising and more.

NOlympics backers question whether so much money can be raised privately. They expect that taxpayers would be asked to pitch in, or even made to guarantee against losses should a catastrophic event cancel the games.

"People who are supporting a ballot initiative are not anti-sports and they're not anti-Olympics," said Larry Ambrose, a neighborhood activist of four decades and part of the NOlympics Colorado movement. "The Olympics is a wonderful thing. The question is: Should the taxpayers of Denver be obligated to pay for the Olympics?"

The group also thinks the games could become a distraction from important issues across the state, like rising housing costs and a lack of transportation funding.

It's not clear yet what NOlympics ballot language will look like.

A draft provided to KUNC states that "any action" by Denver to "provide physical or financial resources for Olympic Games" would require a vote by residents of the city. The draft also states that a vote would be required if the city intends to act as financial guarantor for the games, or wants to use funds for public safety or other personnel.

"We're working on that language," Ambrose said. "It might be simplified down just to include any financial obligations."

Once the group has language set, it will have to collect signatures in Denver. Ambrose said the proposed ordinance could be on the ballot this fall, but may be held off until next spring.

Ramonna Robinson, a spokesperson for the Denver exploratory committee, said subcommittees are looking seriously at the pros and cons of what it would take to bring an Olympics to Colorado. The exploratory committee has pushed back its release date several times, but is expected to issue its recommendation to Hancock and Hickenlooper soon.

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