USOC headquarters no 'sideshow freak'

October 8, 2010
photo - The sign is up on the new United States Olympic Committee building at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Tejon Street on Thursday. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
The sign is up on the new United States Olympic Committee building at the corner of Colorado Avenue and Tejon Street on Thursday. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

When city officials were trying to sell Colorado Springs on the multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded deal to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee’s headquarters in town, the Olympic rings were a big part of the pitch.

In fact, in renderings of a proposed USOC headquarters building downtown, the multicolored rings were prominently featured, perched on top of the building.

But if you drive by the building today, you have to get close to see the rings, and they’re hardly visible at night.

The sign wasn’t going to be illuminated until the Downtown Development Authority stepped in. The authority is a self-taxing district formed to enhance downtown.

After being approached by Mayor Lionel Rivera, the DDA board agreed to pay about $24,300 to light the sign, which the USOC planned to keep dark at night.

“From the beginning, (the DDA) wanted to be a partner, and they wanted to help enhance the building where the U.S. Olympic Committee was,” Rivera said.

“They had made the offer initially that they wanted to provide some financial help, so I turned to them and said, ‘Well, how about funding the cost of lighting the sign?’ And they did,” he said.

(Should the DDA have paid to light the USOC's sign? Vote in poll.)

Rivera said he learned the sign wasn’t going to be illuminated and that the rings weren’t going to be featured more prominently when the USOC showed him newer renderings of the headquarters.

“My request was ... to have it illuminated at night because this is a building that we want to highlight – the headquarters is downtown – and having it illuminated at night would be something that would be great for the city, great for downtown merchants,” he said.

Rivera noted that the early renderings were created by developer Ray Marshall, not the USOC. The deal involving Marshall fell apart, and a new one with the USOC was negotiated.

“That was his way to, I think, market his building,” Rivera said.

USOC spokesman Mark Jones agreed, saying the USOC didn’t promote a sign with giant rings.

“They’re certainly not like the pictures you saw in the last couple of years … that looked almost like a Hollywood sign on the top of the building,” he said. “But that was never a proposed design from our perspective.”

When asked why the USOC didn’t pay to light the sign, Jones said the sports organization devotes its money to its athletes.

“At the end of the day, every single spare dollar we have goes to developing America’s elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes,” he said. “That’s our mission.”

Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, said downtown stakeholders envisioned a different sign.

“We always wanted a giant set of rings,” he said. “But the USOC came back and said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not a sideshow freak.’”

He said the USOC wanted the building to look like a corporate headquarters.

“I have to agree with them on that,” Butlin said. “We wanted to make it as gaudy and as retail as possible. We would have put 20-foot letters ... that you could see from Pikes Peak.”

USOC officials “are going to take a second look and see if we can highlight the rings better,” Rivera said.

“Would I like to see the rings highlighted better? Absolutely. But I think the sign looks good,” he said.

Butlin said he expected some criticism over the DDA paying to light the sign.

“I always expect there to be a small bit criticism for anything you do,” he said.

But the majority of people he talks to are “thrilled” the USOC is here, he said.

Colorado Springs is already seeing the benefits of having the USOC, from employees eating lunch downtown to the U.S. Olympic Assembly meeting at the Antlers Hilton.

“The Olympic Assembly hasn’t gone any place twice, and they’re already committed to come back here next year, it went so smoothly for them,” he said. “There’s a lot of things happening that are great.”

Call the writer at 476-1623



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