U.S. Olympic Museum organizers have taken what they say is the most significant step yet toward turning their 5-year-old dream into reality.

Under warm and sunny skies Friday morning, and with Pikes Peak providing an eye-catching backdrop, museum, city, state and U.S. Olympic Committee representatives broke ground on the $75 million project planned for downtown Colorado Springs.

As envisioned, the 60,000-square-foot museum will honor the nation's Olympic and Paralympic movement, athletes and ideals through interactive displays and exhibits. It will include a Hall of Fame, theater, retail space, cafe and outdoor plaza.

Expected to draw about 350,000 visitors a year, the Olympic Museum also will boost area tourism and help drive the local economy - creating 40 to 60 permanent jobs with salaries of $30,000 to $100,000 and generating just over $28 million in sales tax revenue over 30 years, backers said.

They also predict it will spur redevelopment of downtown's tired southwest side as new stores, restaurants and apartments replace aging warehouses and industrial buildings. And, it will cement ties between the Olympic movement and the city, which is home to the USOC's headquarters, an Olympic Training Center and two dozen Olympic national governing bodies and last year adopted "Olympic City USA" as its brand.

"This is an historic and transformational day for the city of Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak region," said Mayor John Suthers. "Today we break ground on the nation's one and only Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame and we continue to construct the foundation for our future as Olympic City USA."

About 500 people - including local and state elected officials, business people, developers, civic leaders and Olympic athletes - attended Friday's event, organizers estimate. It took place at Sierra Madre Street and Vermijo Avenue in southwest downtown, where the museum is expected to open in summer or fall 2019.

The crowd also included several project donors. Private contributions are paying about two-thirds of the museum's price tag; the remainder is being funded by a bank loan, which will be paid off with state sales-tax revenue made available through Colorado's Regional Tourism Act. Nor'wood Development Group, a Springs developer that owns land in southwest downtown, donated a 1.7-acre parcel where the museum will be built.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, Olympic gold medalist and museum board member Benita Fitzgerald Mosley and museum board chairman Dick Celeste took turns touting the project's significance to the community and the Olympic movement.

"We're going to celebrate the Olympic creed, we're going to celebrate Olympic values," said Celeste, a former Colorado College president, Ohio governor and ambassador to India. "When we talk about swifter, higher, stronger, I think you will see that in the building itself...Our goal is to tell the stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes in a way that is compelling for everyone who visits and is inspiring for everyone who visits."

Hickenlooper said the museum's impact will go far beyond tourism spending, predicting it has the potential for long-term economic development successes for the Springs.

"You're going to have a whole universe of people that are going to come through Colorado Springs, to come to the museum, and they're going to get a chance to see Pikes Peak, they're going to get a chance to see the community, and you're going to get a sliver of them that are going to say, 'this is where I want to start my business, this is where I want to, not just build a business, but build a family and build a life,'" Hickenlooper said.

"It's going to help not just with hotels and lodger taxes and restaurants, but it's going to allow you to attract younger, cooler entrepreneurs that are going to want to build businesses and create jobs in your community," Hickenlooper added. "That's what everyone's competing for nowadays and this is going to give Colorado Springs a big leg up."

The Springs supported the USOC, its athletes who train here and national governing bodies for decades, said the organization's Blackmun. The museum will further commemorate the city-USOC partnership and "honor our athletes and in particular the strength of their spirit, their determination and their extraordinary accomplishments," he said.

Fitzgerald Mosley, a hurdler who won a gold medal in 1984, said the museum, its supporters, architects and designers and the community all are "world class." The project, she said, will allow the story of the collective journey of thousands of Olympic and Paralympic athletes to "finally be told in magnificent fashion. I'm awestruck at the thought of having a place to call our own here in Olympic City USA."

"The museum," she added, "will fuel the dreams and aspirations of millions of young children who are thinking about flipping and jumping and running and rolling and kicking and riding and throwing and swimming their way to Olympic glory."

While Friday was the ceremonial groundbreaking, the museum's construction actually began weeks ago.

A drilling rig, front-end loader and other equipment on site were testament to the work already under way. Among the project's first steps: crews will install the foundation and bring in dirt to level the site, said Jim Johnson, owner of GE Johnson Construction Co., the project's general contractor.

The museum's groundbreaking, planned for early 2016, was delayed until organizers raised enough private money and commitments; the bank loan, meanwhile, was secured in April. Standing at the site after the groundbreaking, Celeste - who first talked with Hickenlooper, then-Springs Mayor Steve Bach and others about the project five years ago - said he never doubted the day would come.

"It took a little longer than I had anticipated, but something like this is never easy," Celeste said. "It's worth every bit of effort. The crowd today reflects the excitement in the community. Nobody can anticipate what it's going to look like when we're standing on the plaza of this extraordinary building. It's just going to blow people away."


Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228

Twitter: @richladen

Facebook: Rich Laden

Business writer, Colorado Springs Gazette

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