More than 1,500 pieces of steel have been erected in the 10 months since construction began on the U.S. Olympic Museum in downtown Colorado Springs.

But just one piece - an 893-pound, 29-foot-long beam - was the focus of about 100 community members Friday morning.

Carrying the Sharpie-inscribed signatures of dozens of construction workers, business people and civic leaders, the beam was slowly hoisted by crane to the top of the four-story museum. It was affixed on the building's northwest corner by a hard hat-wearing construction worker, who let out a loud whistle to signal he was done.

The beam's placement highlighted a topping-out ceremony - a building industry event that signifies a construction milestone.

In the museum's case, Friday marked the project's midway point - with expectations it will open in 2019 and attract thousands of tourists, inject life into downtown's tired southwest side and add to the city's economic revival.

"The momentum that this museum represents to the city is reflective of the momentum that we've got going citywide in terms of economic development," Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said at Friday's ceremony. "There's just so many tremendous things taking place in Colorado Springs."

The $75 million, 60,000-square-foot museum is going up at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street. Proposed by a nonprofit group, it's being funded with private donations and state sales tax revenues. The museum is one of four City for Champions projects that qualified for a total of $120.5 million in state funding over 30 years.

With 20,000 square feet of displays and exhibits, a hall of fame, theater, gift shop and other amenities, the museum is envisioned as a tribute to the nation's Olympic and Paralympic movements and their athletes.

Over the next several years, city officials and private developers say they expect downtown's light industrial southwest side to be made over with offices, restaurants, apartments, hotels and other new development.

Andie Doyle, vice chairwoman of the museum's board, said Friday's topping-out ceremony demonstrates that a "state-of-the-art, world-class" venue is well on its way.

The museum also will further cement city ties to the Olympic movement, said Thayer Tutt, vice chairman and chief investment officer of the Springs-based El Pomar Foundation, which donated $10 million to the project.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has been headquartered in Colorado Springs since 1978, while the Springs is home to one of the nation's three Olympic Training Centers. The city also has adopted the moniker "Olympic City USA" in its branding efforts.

Jim Johnson, president and owner of general contractor GE Johnson Construction Co. of Colorado Springs, said the topping-out tradition has its roots in Europe, when most structures were made of wood and plants or trees were placed on top of beams to symbolize a giving back to forests. While steel, the museum beam hoisted Friday carried a 2-foot-tall evergreen seedling to pay homage to those original topping out ceremonies. It also carried an American flag.

Johnson said Friday's milestone signifies a next step in construction - meaning the building envelope or skin is getting ready to be installed. The museum's exterior will include more than 9,000 individual metal panels, each of a different shape and size, he said.

"This building truly is one of a kind," Johnson said.

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