The recommendation of Denver's Olympics Exploratory Committee is in: Denver and Colorado should pursue a Winter Olympics.
The committee's green light is the first step to paving the way for the games to come to the state in the years ahead. But it's not without caveats.
The exploratory committee released a 231-page report (PDF) on June 1 endorsing a "new approach" for hosting the games. The report recommends that private financing be secured "to safeguard Colorado residents from any budget overruns associated with hosting the Winter Games" - a problem for many other cities in the past. It also calls for a statewide vote around 2020 to endorse the games.
Both Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who commissioned the report, and Gov. John Hickenlooper voiced support for the recommendation to bring the games as well as for the approach.
"A statewide referendum gives Coloradans the chance to weigh in on the potential to host a Winter Games," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "We handle crowds much greater than the typical Winter Games attendance without significant congestion or other impacts to the state. This report shows how a Winter Games could provide long term economic, social and environmental benefits."
The report includes a plan where no "direct funding" would come from public entities or taxpayers. The plan also would not require state or local taxpayers to be financially responsible for any losses resulting from games. Other provisions called for in the report include:
- The provision of "a level of transparency to the public-at-large"
- A focus on the "legacy or temporary use of venues rather than constructing new ones"
- Minimizing environmental impacts
- Exploring ways the Winter Games can "be a catalyst for creative solutions to pressing challenges, such as traffic congestion and affordable housing."
After a first skim of the report, supporters of NOlympics Colorado remained critical of the costs of Olympics and the motives of the Denver Olympics Exploratory Committee. The committee includes representatives from business, sports and government.
Christine O'Connor, a longtime neighborhood leader and NOlympics backer, called the report's recommendation for a statewide vote "good news, if they follow through with that."
"Meanwhile, we are not going to abandon our Denver city ballot initiative," O'Connor added.
That vote, which could take place either this fall or next spring, would occur only in Denver because of its role as bidder and host city of any Olympics. One draft of NOlympics ballot language provided to KUNC states that "any action" by Denver to "provide physical or financial resources for Olympic Games" would trigger 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.
As for the report's recommendation to privately finance any games without burdening taxpayers, O'Connor said, "promises, promises."
"Already they've changed the dollar amount that they expect to get from the International Olympic Committee for a Winter Olympics," she said. "It's gone from $950 million down to $559 million. These numbers are constantly changing. I don't believe that there really is any risk management gimmick or private insurance tool that can completely eliminate the risks to the taxpayers."
Denver was awarded the Winter Games of 1976, but voters rallied to reject the Olympics' use of tax money. Former Gov. Richard Lamm was instrumental in that process and echoed sentiments similar to O'Connor.
"To me, hosting the Olympics is a massive diversion from solving the problems Denver is faced with," Lamm said. "It takes our civic eye off the problems themselves and places them on a financially risky winter sports event in the time of global warming."